Lucie Wade reflects on her Heritage Consortium Placement
While I only spent a relatively short time working with Leeds Museums and Galleries (thirty days, to be precise, spread out over a few months), I was made to feel wonderfully welcome, and I have gained so much. I didn’t choose to undertake the placement with LMG because it had a direct link with my PhD research, rather, it was more for my personal interest. I have lived in West Yorkshire all my life, and thought it would be fascinating to have the chance to peek behind the curtain at some of the museums and sites that I have so enjoyed visiting over the years. Indeed, completing a placement which had very little to do with my PhD research allowed me to have a break from the PhD and focus on something else – which I enjoyed much more than I initially thought I would!
LMG was established in 1821, and is the largest local authority-run museum service in England. They run nine historic sites and visitor attractions, to which they welcome over one million visitors each year. They are run and primarily funded by Leeds City Council, and in 2012 achieved Major Partner Museum status from Arts Council England.
As I have noted, LMG comprises of nine sites and attractions, but during my placement I was based at either Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, or at the Leeds Discovery Centre, Leeds City Centre. My placement mentor was Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds Social History, but I was very privileged to meet and work with a huge number of people who worked in different roles and levels across LMG. Every single person I met and worked with was extremely kind and welcoming, and I am very grateful to everyone who was involved in my placement.
My placement, which was spread out from December 2017 to March 2018, coincided nicely with the opening of Abbey House Museum’s new exhibition, ‘A Woman’s Place?’, which opened January 2018. As such, the majority of my placement was focused on helping with the final preparations and installation of the exhibition. The exhibition focuses on the women of Leeds from the Victorian era to the present day, looking at how life for women changed across this period. The theme was chosen in order to coincide with the centenary of some women getting the vote in 1918, and aims to inspire women and girls to believe that their ambitions and achievements are not limited by their gender.
A key aspect of my placement was my involvement in a photography project for the exhibition. This project involved taking photographs of contemporary women of Leeds and surrounding communities, and asking them what it meant to be a woman today. This was without a doubt the highlight of my placement. I got to meet so many interesting people, in such a fascinating range of occupations – including Dee Adams, mother of Olympic boxer Nicola Adams!
I also helped out with the physical installation of the exhibition. This was very exciting, and a learning curve – I had never imagined when I started my placement that I would be spending some of it laying flooring and hanging wallpaper! If you do visit the exhibition, don’t look too closely – master handyman I am not! Having said that, it was great fun and really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of work that goes into putting an exhibition together, most of which goes on behind the scenes.
Aside from helping out with the exhibition, I had the opportunity to see how Abbey House Museum was run, and how it interacted with the other LMG sites. I attended a number of meetings, including acquisition meetings, where I had the chance to see what new objects had been collected by LMG, and how they were going to be used. I also was introduced to software used by LMG, and spent some of my time updating the museum catalogue. This usually coincided with having the chance to handle objects from LMG’s vast collection, which was very exciting.
Completing my placement with LMG has allowed me to see how heritage works in practice. My placement has influenced how I see heritage organisations and cultural institutions, and has allowed me to view the complexities that can arise from presenting heritage and history to the public. I have learned so much, and I had the best time doing it!