Agenda item

Ancient House Museum Report

To receive a report from Oliver Bone, Curator of ancient House Museum.


Dr Robin Hanley, Assistant Head of Museums, Norfolk Museums Service (NMS), provided the Committee with an update on the effect of COVID-19, the current museum closures, and how it had affected the NMS and the impact experienced so far.


All Norfolk Museums had been closed to visitors on 19 March 2020 as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The majority of NMS staff had been working remotely since that time. Following a phased COVID-secure reopening of the NMS museum sites at Norwich Castle, Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse and the Time & Tide Museum during July and August and at Lynn Museum in October, all sites had closed again from 5 November 2020 as part of the second national lockdown. He explained if an area fell into tier 3 or 4, current government restrictions meant that legally they could not reopen to the public until restrictions were released.


Dr Hanley further explained that many normal activities and services, including school visits had been severely impacted due to COVID-19. Many NMS staff had been involved in key duties relating to the Norfolk County Council’s COVID-19 emergency work, including making telephone calls to vulnerable residents and managing the distribution of food and medicine to residents who needed that support. He added that during museum closures, staff had made regular checks to all buildings to ensure safeguarding of buildings and collections.


Museum staff had been very positive and creative and had adapted to new ways of working by exploring different ways to engage both existing and new audiences particularly through digital activity. He explained that following the Government announcement that museums could legally reopen from 4 July 20 with suitable COVID-19 security measures in place, Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse successfully reopened to visitors in the summer. This followed the implementation of strict COVID-19 safety procedures that were reviewed and signed off by the NCC Health & Safety and Wellbeing team. Re-opening had also been in accordance with sector-specific guidance issued by the National Museums Directors Council. Gressenhall reopened to Museums Pass holders and Friends on 20 July, prior to opening to the general public on 3 August. All visits had to be pre-booked using timed tickets available from the Art Tickets website and had to accommodate social distancing, site visitor capacity had been significantly reduced.


The Curator of Kings Lynn and Thetford Museums, Oliver Bone, presented the Ancient House Museum report that covered the period from September 2020 to December 2020.


He explained that the layout of Ancient House, with a number of smaller rooms over two floors made the re-opening more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the requirements for social distancing and confirmed that Ancient House had remained closed since March 2020. Extensive work had been carried out by staff to plan carefully controlled COVID-secure on-site activities for schools in liaison with the NCC Health, Safety & Wellbeing team with the first groups expected in December 2020 but those visits had to be cancelled due to the effect of building works at the property next door, the former King’s Head Public House. The impact of the building works had caused disruption to the museum’s plans to provide a safe return of school groups.


The Studio Ceramics exhibition, which was the last exhibition at the museum prior to lockdown, would now be deinstalled and packed up for storage to make room for a new exhibition of Thetford Treasure which had originally been planned for 2020. Staff were now hoping that this exhibition would be held in 2021 to provide added interest for the reopening of the museum, from 27 March to 4 December 2021, with exact dates to be confirmed with the British Museum.


The Ancient House was working with the Brecks River and Fen Edge Landscape project, with the focus being on Vikings, in partnership with Dr Richard Hoggett to curate the exhibitions. This would also involve members of the Teenage History Group who would work with the NMS Learning officer, Melissa Hawker to work together as community curators to choose artefacts and themes for the display.


The Ancient House continued to host a paid traineeship, provided through the NMS Teaching Museum programme, and the current trainee, Sami Yusuf provided Members with a short talk on his experience so far. He explained that his placement had started at the beginning of the pandemic with the vast majority of work being done remotely. He had some concerns at the beginning of how his traineeship would progress during lockdown but although the digital aspect had presented different challenges, it had also offered many opportunities. He had joined Melissa Hawker in providing some school deliveries on-line and had recently livestreamed to two primary schools to link in with their learning curriculum of Anglo Saxons and Vikings.


The Chairman enlightened the Committee that, the funders of the scheme, Arts Council England, had confirmed that due to the current pandemic, the current trainee scheme would be extended to 18 months.



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