Guest Post: Pat Brandwood explains how the Robert Owen Museum reopened during Museums at Night

Our latest guest post comes from Pat Brandwood, Curator of the recently reopened Robert Owen Museum in Newtown.

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Robert Owen was a social visionary and founder of the international co-operative movement, a pioneer of “early learning” and free universal education; and a founding father of socialism – a man who wanted to make the world a better place. At the Robert Owen Museum we are all unpaid volunteers, and have tried hard to restore key items of the Collection, improve the displays and make the museum more welcoming.

Museums at Night came at an opportune time for us in 2 ways:  17 May is Owen’s birthday, and the Museum had been closed for building and safety improvements and was scheduled to re-open in mid-May.

So when Culture24 contacted us about Museums at Night 2014, the first thing I did was contact our friends at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum (who had a successful event in 2013) and steal a few ideas.

A man face to face with a bust

A proud moment from the museum’s history: Tony Benn encountering his hero, Robert Owen (c) Gemma Bowker

Preparations began in March, and we used our AGM to allocate responsibilities and form a small team:

  • Our Publicity Officer was responsible for a series of articles leading up to the event, on local radio and in the local press, as well as the Co-op News.
  • Our Education Officer produced a flyer and a poster which she circulated and called “Night at the Museum”.
  • Invitations were circulated by email and post to friends, schools and businesses.
  • I visited local co-operatives, large and small to invite them and ask for help.  These groups provided us with fantastic food and wine, as well as flowers for a birthday presentation at Owen’s Statue.
  • The Town Council, our partners in the building, were involved at every stage and made sure the building was pristine and ready on the day and issued their own invitations.

We opened on Friday, our first day after a six month closure, to a variety of visitors. These included people who were passing on the way to our local restaurants and pubs, a welcome extension to our usual clientele!

A group of people by a statue with flowers at its feet

The Museum team place flowers around the statue of Robert Owen (c) David Pugh

Saturday was more of a worry because the logistics were more complex, involving everything for the reception arriving for the times advertised on the flyer and a tense moment when the florist was held up by an evening wedding.  But everything went like clockwork, with the exception of the Curator doing a guided tour at 7:30pm – in fact, we had to run guided tours for 4 hours! The publicity had worked, and we had photographers and even our M.P. among our many visitors, young and old.

A mayoress wearing a gold chain

The Mayor visiting Robert Owen Museum (c) David Pugh

We’re a voluntary and independent museum and depend on the goodwill and support of our partners. So it was good to see that the late opening contributed to a relaxing atmosphere, with visitors and helpers enjoying a unique evening activity.

We have received a real boost in our number of volunteers and enthusiasts, with more locals feeling a real sense of ownership in their Museum.  It was a celebration of Newtown as well as Robert Owen, and the building has been renamed The Robert Owen Centre Newtown to reflect this partnership.

Museums at Night was exhausting for us, but also fun.  Next year we are planning a special event with local schools, artists and a small exhibition to reflect Owen’s place in the establishment of free, universal education.  We’ll start planning when the schools return in September!

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A woman in a red cardigan shaking hands with a cardboard Robert OwenI spent my career teaching social and economic history, and moved to Newtown in Powys 8 years ago. I joined the Robert Owen Museum as Education Officer then became Curator in 2009. In November 2013 I received an award from the Co-op Cymru and the Bevan Foundation: in recognition of our work at the Museum I was made Co-operator of the Year.

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Thanks, Pat!

If you’d like to write a guest post or share a case study about any aspect of audience development, event planning or marketing in the arts and heritage sector, please email rosie@culture24.org.uk.

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