Cambridgeshire Museums Small Grants 2014-15

Each year Cambridgeshire County Council is able to distribute small grants to the non-University Accredited museums. The funding is from the Arts Council England (ACE) Museum Development allocation to the East of England which is channelled through SHARE Museums East. In recent years these grants have been for up to £2,000 and are allocated each November for projects to be completed the following April. There is a simple application form which requires the museums to demonstrate how their plans fit with ACE’s five main priority areas and with their own forward plans. The projects can be for any aspects of the museums’ operations but cannot be used to cover core costs (e.g. staff). In some cases a museum might receive more than one grant, so long as the projects are of sufficient value and quality. There is a preference for projects which are innovative and likely to be of interest and value to other museums.

Burwell Museum
The grant was used to engage three young adults looking for voluntary museum work experience for a period of three months. The team catalogued the museum’s Albert Rank Collection, created an accessible display and produced an accompanying research box for adult learners. The Albert Rank Collection is one of the hidden treasures of Burwell Museum. Before the project it was housed in a hard-to-access cabinet in the museum’s meeting room. The collection is appealing to schools as it includes Iron Age to Bronze Age material that should now allow the museum to offer a wider, more resilient school’s programme.
Read a report of the project here.

The Norris Museum
The Norris Museum is currently in the Development Phase of an HLF-funded expansion and Re-development project. An audit of the Museum’s collection of oil paintings highlighted the need for conservation and reframing of pictures from the collection and the grant allowed conservation of two views of St Ives’ famous historic bridge.

Ramsey Rural Museum
Two recent conservation audits, the most recent carried out on 16 May 2014, noted that the lighting lux levels, throughout the museum particularly upstairs in the stable block were too high and likely to cause damage to the artefacts. This is not helped by the diverse nature of the lighting which was fitted. To bring down the lux levels throughout the museum the grant was used to standardize the lighting levels with 6ft tubes with UV filters and diffusers, this coupled with the UV sheeting over the skylights and windows throughout the museum has reduced the lower lighting levels to preserve the collections.

Nene Valley Railway
NVR hold two large scale plans of the Great Northern Railway (17’ 8” x 4’ 3” and 18’ 5” x 4’ 3”) at Peterborough dated 1904. Both items are fragile and difficult to handle and are in a state that that makes them unavailable to anyone. NVR used their grant to have them scanned to make them available to interested parties, e.g. railway, social and local historians, educational institutions and members of the public.

Chatteris Museum
The grant was used to commission replicas of three significant bronze age artefacts by a world expert in bronze work. One item is from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, which has agreed to a three year loan of the very fragile but significant Bronze Age ‘Chatteris’ shield and spear and the funding has allowed restoration and display to an approved standard. The Museum has also borrowed the Bronze Age ‘Chatteris’ rapier from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for which similar conservation and display arrangements are required. The replicas are a sustainable legacy for the Town and Museum after the project and exhibition finish. They will provide a vivid and tangible focus on this period of our history and provide tactile items that the community and visitors can handle. This will help students, researchers and the wider community to learn about and appreciate the technical quality, ability and complexity of our predecessors to create tools in a new material, developed by human ingenuity rather than just being shaped from natural objects.

Ely Museum (Grant A)
The grant was used to facilitate the work of the collections volunteers in cataloguing the collection and making it more accessible. Ely Museum had an HLF-Funded project to document the collection which ended five years ago. Despite the best efforts of staff, a small backlog of documentation and cataloguing had built up alongside the small number of tasks which were not completed during the funded project. A team of collections volunteers was assembled to address this shortfall in accessioning, updating the catalogue (Modes) including adding images to the catalogue and, in particular, confirming and updating location information. A practical part of the project was purchase of a new laptop to facilitate this, as the laptop currently used by the volunteers is unreliable and expected to break at any time.

The volunteers also took over the implementation of the environmental monitoring and the integrated pest management programme, under the supervision of the curator.

In addition to the cataloguing, the volunteers put on a temporary exhibition of their choosing in spring 2015, facilitated by the curator and assistant curator, to give them the opportunity to develop skills in display, label and panel text writing.

Ely Museum (Grant B)
The project made simple improvements to the visitor experience at Ely Museum as identified by the Mystery Shopper visit as part of the SHARE Mystery Shopper pilot scheme.

The priorities which were highlighted by the Mystery Shopper report included the tired and tatty looking front desk, which creates a poor impression when a visitor enters, small criticisms of facilities which we plan to address and changes to the way the front desk of the museum operates. In order to address these criticisms, the project was designed to make the front desk area more welcoming and more efficient as well as adding small items of equipment throughout the galleries and visitor facilities areas, such as the addition of a paper towel dispenser to the toilets.The overall aim of the project was to improve the visitor experience to Ely Museum by eliminating the problems which create a negative impression for a visitor and creating a more positive experience for all.

Stained Glass Museum
In 2013 the Stained Glass Museum acquired four modern stained glass panels by Geoffrey Clarke RA (1925-2014), currently undergoing conservation. The Museum used the grant to display these pioneering artworks in the Museum’s permanent gallery. The unique three-dimensional nature and size of the stained glass panels required innovative display solutions, and the grant enabled the Museum to commission bespoke display frames.

The display frames, made from inert metal, support and protect the panels and conform to 21st-century museum standards. St Anthony, a long horizontal panel, is illuminated by a state-of-the-art LED panel and placed above one of our fixed cabinets, thus maximising our limited wall space. Fragment, Priest, and Saint Sebastian are displayed in freestanding frames in-between our permanent display cases. Displayed in this way the panels are illuminated by natural light from the triforium windows, with the additional option of artificial LED spotlights during the winter. Uniquely, this freestanding display enables circumnavigation of our panels so that visitors can see them from all angles, thus providing a new viewing experience in the gallery.

Thorney Heritage Museum
The grant allowed engagement on a short term basis of a Museum professional to assist us with reducing the Museum’s documentation backlog, adding capacity to Modes Compact and ensuring good practice.  The collection grew between 1996 and 2006 when there was no Curator, and work in this area has been needed for our forward plan since then. A freelancer was employed to help tackle this priority area and to review the Documentation Plan to ensure the focus of the Museum’s work is appropriate.

St Neots Museum
Our project was to increase access to and develop awareness of St Neots Museum and also to develop our engagement with students, families and hard to reach groups. The Museum planned to increase access and develop awareness through the production of a new folded A4 museum leaflet, 10,000 copies to be distributed initially.

To develop our engagement with students, families and hard to reach group an iPad computer was purchased to enable them to document their views via video and oral recordings, as well as researching information during sessions at the museum. The iPad will help the Museum to develop its work with local schools, improve its Arts Award offer and to expand the ways in which it works with local families and children, in particular allowing those for whom the written word is not their preferred means of communication to interact with our collections.

Museum of Fenland Drainage
The grant was used to install ‘sound tubes’ to ‘pipe’ the sounds of the diesel pumping engines around the Museum. This simple technology allows pre-recorded sounds of the engines to be heard when it is not possible to start the engines and gives the visitor, especially if they have visual impairment, a chance to interact with the displays. The grant has also allowed the Museum to improve interpretation especially in the foyer area.