In todays guest post, Phillippa Heath, Public Programmes Manager at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), talks about how their Museums at Night event this year has been handed over to the students to run.
For Museums at Night the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) is going back to its roots by celebrating the Museum’s foundation and running a 1951 Vintage Night. The event which will be held on Saturday, 17th May will include live music, dancing, stalls, craft & vintage cocktails.
The difference this year is that we have handed over the reins to a group of students!
Developing a Student Steering Panel
Our Museums at Night events have always embraced the ethos which underpins the festival – to encourage new audiences into museums and galleries – and this year we wanted to run an event which would focus on one particular group of visitors we are keen to encourage to visit more: University students. As a University Museum we work with students in many ways academically, but they are very much underrepresented in our audience profile for events.
This was confirmed by visitor research carried out whilst preparing the Activity Plan for our recently submitted ‘Our Country Lives’ Heritage Lottery project bid. As a result, we have identified students as one of key target audiences for future activity.
Modelling vintage style shoes at MERL Reading. Photo courtesy Museum of English Rural Life.
In order to test the water and see what it takes to create successful student event, we have recruited the help of a Student Steering Panel for our Museums at Night event. They are a group of incredibly passionate and enthusiastic individuals who have been involved at every stage of the organisation and planning of the event.
History student Lucy Reddy (@indianacroft) who is leading on our social media said “I’m excited about reviving the fun spirit of the 1950’s for one night and giving students the chance to have an alternative evening in a setting that will definitely be a talking point! We’re still offering those timeless essentials that we all love – food, drinks and dancing – but finally there’s an acceptable reason pull out those petticoats or polka dots and Jive all night!”
The student panel in the Museum, photo courtesy Museum of English Rural Life.
Developing event planning and management skills
Since January the panel has met every two weeks and we have been joined by guest speakers from the Museum and the local community who have shared their expertise of events management and planning, from marketing to the specifics of running Vintage events.
The meetings have been facilitated by myself and Rob Davies, our Volunteer Coordinator, but as far as possible we have left the decisions up to the students. In order to run the event effectively, the students divided themselves into different groups with different areas of responsibility including marketing, entertainment, catering, decorations and props, research and operations.
Two members of the panel at a meeting, photo courtesy Museum of English Rural Life
Juliet Wilson, who has been researching the first objects the museum acquired in 1951, says: “I’m really looking forward to showing off MERL in a different light, using the first acquisitions to tell the story of the development of such an amazing museum…alongside drinks and dancing!”
To share ideas and to keep in touch in between meetings, the panel members have set up a Facebook group which has proved to be a great method of communication. This is particularly important as the students are continuing to work on the event despite having dispersed across the country for the Easter vacation.
We have had a lot of fun along the way. Our most recent venture was recording a promotional video for the event.
Members of the Student Panel came clad in their 1950s frocks and, thanks to donated props from local businesses Alexandra Vintage and Frock’n’Roll, they worked with Rob Davies to use the Museum spaces and props to develop a storyline for the trailer. We even managed to rope our Assistant Curator and Operations Manager into learning to dance!
Dr Ollie Douglas, Assistant Curator and Mat Binks, Operations Manager getting a dance lesson. Photo courtesy Museum of English Rural Life
We hope that this event will be the first of many that we work on with the student panel. We have learnt a lot about what students want out of an event and how they choose which events to go to and we hope that the experience has been useful for the students too.
The collaboration has been great so far and we are now very much looking forward to the event itself!
Further details are available on our website at http://www.reading.ac.uk/merl/whatson/merl-specialevents.aspx
Phillippa Heath is the Public Programmes Manager at the Museum of Rural Life.
Thank you, Phillippa!
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