Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse Report
To receive a report from Andrew Smith, Operations Manager – West.
The Operations Manager for East and West, Andrew Smith presented the report to Members that covered the period from December 2019 to September 2020.
Andrew confirmed that Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse closed on 19 March but was very pleased to be able to put the work in place and all the required measurements to reopen on 20 July for a couple of weeks to museum pass holders and friends before reopening to the public on 3 August 20. To accommodate visitors in a safe and Covid secure way numbers were limited to a maximum capacity of 285 people per day with 135 visitors at any one time. During the school holidays approximately 120 visited per day but since the school autumn term started in September the number averaged at 40 to 50 per day with more at weekends.
A themed event during the February half term, The Hunt for Old Tom’s Treasure ran from Monday 17 to Friday 19 February, with an average of 216 people per day. Andrew said it had been very sad to cancel the events programme which included many special event days such as A Vintage Affair, Forties Village at War and Apple Day and the very popular Horse Power day due to the ongoing pandemic.
Since the reopening of the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse on Monday 20 July a reintroduction of small-scale event activities has been instigated. There had been a pencil free children’s activity sheet available to all visitors daily and plans were underway for October to include updated activity packs for children and a hands-free obstacle course, and a virtual Christmas event at the workhouse in December.
The costs of delivery and marketing the Gressenhall event programme continued to be subsidised with funding from Arts Council England (ACE) as part of the 2018-22 Norfolk Museums Service ACE business plan as a National Portfolio Organisation.
Andrew was pleased to confirm that the temporary exhibition Full Steam Ahead did open in February half term which, in the future, would include the Farmers Foundry Company engine which was currently undergoing restoration and hoped to be return in Spring 2021.
Planning had started for a 2021 temporary exhibition entitled More in Commons and NMS would be working in partnership with Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who were celebrating their 95th birthday. The exhibition would be a celebration of the wildlife, history and community of Norfolk’s common land.
Staff had also created several online versions of previous temporary exhibitions during the lockdown period which allowed online visitors to explore objects and images at their own pace.
Gressenhall continued to lead on the More Than Oliver Twist project which had been granted a 4-month extension and had been made into a completely digital exhibition which would be ready to publish in mid-October and hosted on the Google Arts and Culture platform.
Lockdown had given the opportunity to recruit further family history research volunteers and research had been completed on all the inmates recorded in the 1881 census. Volunteers had now started researching those in the 1871 census.
A Collecting COVID-19 project was started in response to the national lockdown using a phased approach. The initial phase of collating information was during lockdown and would be followed up in Autumn by a new Living with the Pandemic phase.
Andrew gave a short presentation with photographs of the new Adventure playground at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, which, funded through the Norfolk County Council capital programme, was almost ready to open to visitors. The new play equipment had been fully installed, and final elements of landscaping were being completed by the Gressenhall team. A detailed COVID-19 risk assessment and related safe system of work had been written for the playground area and it was hoped to finally open the play area and new equipment in time for October half term. The new look adventure playground would play a key role in attracting families, repeat visitors and NMS Museums Pass holders to the site. The new adventure playground complimented the wider site’s existing interpretation including such elements as the wildlife, woodland, heavy horses and farm animals and blended into the surrounding landscape very well whilst providing a key offer for the family audience.
Andrew explained it had been a challenging time for the team across the whole site but particularly the farm as key priorities had to be covered particularly the care and feeding of the livestock. There had been weekly farm diaries from March to September which were published in the local press and online. The Chairman suggested webcams might be a good way to watch the animals over the winter period.
Digital work had become more important during the last few months and Gressenhall had worked hard to publish content on Facebook and Twitter. This included a number of projects with video content including a popular Workhouse Murder Mystery and a series of craft activities which were inspired by the popular Art attack activities usually provided on site. Moaning Martha, a fictional inmate character had also been very popular.
The site closure period also saw the development of a new private Facebook group for Gressenhall staff and volunteers. It provided a link to the museum for staff and volunteers who were not able to attend or work on site. Regular updates were provided by staff completing security checks and other essential work on site during lockdown. This included photographs of the farm animals being fed and the buildings, gardens and wildlife. The Chairman asked if Committee Members would be able to join as it would be useful to have the background of what was happening at Gressenhall on a daily or weekly basis. Andrew would look into this for Members.
The Friends of Gressenhall remain supportive but it had not been possible to hold the bi-monthly Committee Meetings at the museum and the second-hand bookshop remained closed so the Friends had been unable to generate any new income from the bookshop in the current financial year but it was hoped to be up and running again as soon as possible.
The Gressenhall Curator, Dr Megan Dennis, continued to co-ordinate, manage and develop the volunteer teams at Gressenhall. A significant amount of time and energy had been spent staying in touch with the group since the national lockdown began in March. Daily emails were sent to the volunteer group and were still generated on weekdays. It provided a regular link to Gressenhall and was appreciated by many of the volunteers, particularly those living alone, or who were shielding. A range of remote volunteering opportunities had seen the volunteer team increase from 120 to over 150 volunteers, including recruiting people from across the UK for the first time which had increased diversity of the volunteer group. These volunteers had worked on family history research, cataloguing workhouse archives and improving collection records. The new project had remote volunteers working together to create a 3D sculpture for the 2021 temporary exhibitionMore in Commons.Following a detailed review with senior managers and volunteers, approval had been given for the resumption of limited outdoor gardening on the top site at Gressenhall. A small number of gardening volunteers were now able to attend the site in a COVID-19 secure and safe way to carry out essential outdoor works to maintain the garden areas.
Dr Robin Hanley updated members on the Kick the Dust Project which had been ongoing with since 2018. It was a project funded primarily through the National Lottery Heritage Fund for young people aged 11 to 25 with activity around supporting vulnerable young people who did not normally access the Heritage. The budget was just under £1 million which included an original grant from the Heritage Fund and an additional grant administered by the Heritage Fund known as the Youth Accelerator Fund. The project was required to align to a more digital way of working during lockdown and had involved around 400 young people taking part from March to August.
The Kick the Dust team established a working group with partners to work on a project that was designed to reflect the fact that not all young people had ready access to on line and digital resources with a number of young people in digital poverty. It was identified as a priority to provide a non-digital way for young people to engage with the project during lockdown. An ‘Art Parcel’ initiative was designed to work with stakeholders to identify vulnerable young people and arrange the distribution of 1,000 packs of arts resources that enabled those young people to engage with the project without being reliant on digital connectivity.