Agenda item

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 that covered the period from October 2020 to December 2020.


The effect of lockdown and procedures that had been put in place were reiterated. Members were informed that Gressenhall had reduced ‘touchpoints’ in the museum, covering these over where appropriate. He explained that new takeaway activity trails and packs for younger visitors and their families to use around the Gressenhall site had been introduced. All museum visits had to be pre-booked using timed tickets from the Art Tickets website and to accommodate social distancing, site visitor capacity had been significantly reduced.


Due to the pandemic, most of the events programme had to be cancelled. However, there had been a focus on digital delivery as an alternative means of engaging existing and new audiences. The school holiday programme for October half term 2020 was able to go ahead in an amended COVID-19 secure self-led format. The half term week theme was Awesome Autumn which ran from 22 October to 1 November and staff had been able to blend a combination of physical and digital engagement to support this theme. It had allowed visitors to explore nature more closely through autumn crafts, quiz trails, adventurous woodland games and a pumpkin obstacle course which had proved popular.


Since the reopening of the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse on 20 July 20 a reintroduction of small-scale event activities had been instigated which had focussed on self-led, pencil free activities. The Events, Learning and Curatorial teams had focussed their efforts on digital resources and had uploaded information including an online murder mystery and children’s craft activities along with creativity and wellbeing activities inspired by the Lorina Bulwer exhibitions.


With the events programme cancellations, particularly major events such as Apple Day, Gressenhall had presented the first virtual event day with Apple Day Online which delivered creative craft ideas, apple recipes, an apple variety quiz and regular on-line posts across the day for audiences to enjoy. The second virtual event was hosted on 21 and 22 December with Online Festive Activities. Visitors online were greeted with Christmas themed storytelling, craft activities, cooking sessions and a special virtual visit from Father Christmas.


Subject to COVID-19 restrictions, by mid-March it was hoped to have de-installed the ‘Full Steam Ahead’ exhibition which originally opened on 17 February 2020 for half term, and progress to ‘More in Commons’, the temporary exhibition for 2021. For this exhibition staff were working in partnership with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. This would be a celebration of the wildlife, history and community of Norfolk’s common land. Working together with natural history colleagues, community groups (including Gypsy and Romany Travellers) and volunteers, staff would be developing a COVID-19 secure but engaging exhibition.


Staff at Gressenhall had created several on-line versions of previous temporary exhibitions and tours during the lockdown period to allow online visitors to explore objects and images at their own pace. These included the Full Steam Ahead exhibition and the Behind-the-Scenes Collections Store Tour. This digital content would be uploaded to the Google Arts and Culture platform which would make it accessible to a much wider audience online.


Gressenhall continued to lead on the ‘More than Oliver Twist’ project. NMS had been granted a further extension to the project which would be completed by 31 March 2021. This was originally due to have been a physical exhibition which would have toured around the UK with the six regional partners. However, since lockdown this had been changed to a completely digital offer, now to be hosted on the Google Arts and Culture platform.


The Farmers Foundry Company - steam engine restoration project, funded through Arts Council England had another revised and approved timetable due to delays experienced with lockdown. The plan was to bring the steam engine back to Gressenhall in spring 2021, the engine was now ready to be returned to site, once restrictions had been lifted.


Andrew was pleased to inform the Committee that the new adventure playground at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse did finally open on 25 October 2020, in time for the October half term week. He was also pleased to report that it had been extremely well received by family visitors during that week. The opening followed the implementation of strict COVID-19 safety procedures that were reviewed and signed off by the NCC Health & Safety and Wellbeing team. All visits had to be pre-booked using timed tickets available from the playground entrance once families had arrived at Gressenhall using their pre-booked museum entry tickets.  The capacity of the playground was significantly reduced to maintain social distancing, with 25 children able to use the play equipment during a 40-minute play session with a 30-minute cleaning regime between each session.


The Gressenhall farm staff continued to ensure the daily feeding and care of the livestock had been maintained. One element of the farm operation which had been able to continue during lockdown, was the training of the youngest Suffolk Punch horse, Caspar. It was hoped he would be ready to join the rest of the team from the 2022 season onwards.


The Friends of Gressenhall remained supportive but had been unable to generate any new income from the second-hand bookshop which had been closed since the middle of March. Mr Bill Rhodes from the Friends of Gressenhall, explained that the income had dropped tremendously, both with Membership and the book shop, which meant they had not been able to meet every request for funding from Gressenhall that they would have hoped to. It was noted that funding had dropped to approximately £3,000, reduced from an average of £8,500, a considerable drop.


Councillor Kybird conveyed his thanks to the Friends of the Museums and stated that they were an essential part of engaging with the community and contributed towards the success of the museums.


The planned COVID-secure return of school visits had been delayed due to the second lockdown in November. This had been frustrating for staff and schools as there were 800 children from schools booked in which had been clear evidence there remained a strong demand for the service. There had been a small window where Gressenhall had been visited by five schools in total, each visit being from a single class group bubble. Preparations had been thorough; the visits went well, and it was felt that the experience of face-to-face delivery proved a useful learning tool for staff to be prepared and ready for when physical visits could recommence.


Learning staff had completed and piloted two sets of films to support classroom learning where schools could watch the films, think of questions they wished to ask and then talk to a costumed character or member of staff via livestream. Responses to both series of films had been very positive.


Dr Hanley updated the Committee on the Kick the Dust Project which had been funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Project Team had adapted their activities and continued to engage with young people to support existing groups across Norfolk using digital means. The project had been running since October 2018 and had been working with young people, outside of a school setting, in the age group 11 to 25 with most of the activity focussing on young people aged 16 and above. As part of the project, they had worked closely with key partners, YMCA Norfolk and Creative Collisions. He explained from the first lockdown in March to the 21 December 2020, there had been a total of 1,860 interventions, involving 704 individual young people taking part in 880 hours of digital activity. The Project Team had worked hard with YMCA partners to provide engaging activities during lockdown when young people were unable to leave their accommodation.


Dr Hanley reported that the summary of evaluation responses had confirmed that the Kick the Dust Project in Norfolk continued to be very successful and had engaged and developed sustainable relationships with young people who now considered museums to be more relevant. It had also increased staff skills and confidence in working effectively with young people and ensured digital content remained relevant and engaging.


Dr Hanley suggested, if Members wanted a more detailed update at a future point, he could arrange for the project co-ordinator to come along and speak to the Committee.


The Chairman felt that this would be very useful, particularly during the active lifetime of the project, as opposed to a summary afterwards.


Andrew Smith then provided Members with an update on the visitor figures, with an additional report on Social Media which has been attached for information.



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