The Museum of Oxford- An award winning hidden gem

The DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) in 2005 carried out a major study into the reasons we visit museums and galleries in which they found the most popular reason at 43% being a general interest in the museum and or its collections. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (The largest cultural strategy and research agency in the UK) has gone on to argue that these reasons carry much deeper drivers for which we can link his quantified driver of intellectualism to the general interest as they both describe a furtherance in visitor’s and their children’s knowledge of history. Thus i have reached a justification for including the self-promotion of the award winning museum I volunteer with in this blog but do stick with me as I may touch on someone’s historical nerve.

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For those unaware, the Museum of Oxford is a small Oxford City Council run museum located in two rooms to the right of the City’s town hall foyer as well as a larger temporary exhibition gallery to the back of the building. Due to funding implications, the museum retracted its permanent exhibitions from the much larger Old Museum Space in 2010 which used to house the city’s public library and is still used for some of the museum’s more busy events and talks. Despite this, its has been announced that with a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and generous donations to Oxford’s Hidden Histories, plans for redevelopment for the Old Museum space are underway!

Now this is why you are really hear- what can the museum offer its visitors and the local community? with over 200 volunteers like myself putting in more collective hours than Oxford’s students spend on studying, you’d be guaranteed a warm welcome. The museum itself is the only museum in the city dedicated to local history and local people. From the humble beginnings of a tight=knit bordering town defending itself from sword wielding Danes to an academic empire defending itself from selfie stick wielding tourists, the museum tells all and leaves no stone undisturbed. This is easier said than done as rather than stone pavements we give you knuckle-bone pavements, rather than life we gives you dances and masks of death and rather than jam we give you marmalade. The museum offers all these artifacts and more. community outreach programs, creative writing and art courses, talks from local authors, historians and academics, family and Museum at Night sponsored events orchestrated by the brilliant museum staff as well as the Young volunteer’s event planning group known as The Young Innovators (of which i am a founding member). All this from a museum which currently occupies two rooms! If none that catches your eye than wait until you hear how we came to win a national award.

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William White’s (City Engineer) office as it appeared in 1897

Since the 4th of July 2015 (Easy to remember as it shares a birthday with the equally Oxfordian idea that would later become Lewis Carol’s Alice adventures), I began volunteering with the museum of Oxford in a primarily front of house role with opportunities to engage visitors at specially crafted family days or talks as well as the preparation of temporary exhibitions. In conjunction, through the previously mentioned Young Innovators group I have also helped plan and act out events ranging from themes of Gothic spookiness, to local music to archaeology and even comedy! It is certainly one of the most rewarding and enriching things I have ever partaken in so I would hope more young people see the light and jump into the joys of volunteering in their local museum or just anywhere in the local community.

The journey towards our award saw my aforementioned work landing me a nomination at the Museum and Heritage awards for Volunteer of the Year in the swanky surroundings of Northumberland Avenue. London. Before the museum’s Development Assistant and I donned tuxes for the champagne reception, it was off to the Museum and Heritage trade show in Olympia. Showcased was essentially the future of heritage with virtual reality equipment which while out of reach for a small city museum, worked wonders when turning me into a virtual penguin That was more than I could’ve asked for. Following talks on visitor engagement and community approach we headed to the nearby Design Museum which I see necessary to review another day in its own post.

The award ceremony itself was lavishly spectacular and a great opportunity to meet fellows in the heritage industry. That is how I came to have a very informative regalement over the asparagus and poached quail egg starter with staff from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It was a shame they were pitted against a Tim Peak exhibition in their respective award but from what I gathered, it is a must visit heritage site for anyone whose lost someone to war or who simply wishes to pay their respects in beautiful natural company. The tentative wait for our award category was soothed by the inspiring speeches of other award winners with one of the most notable being Director General of the National Trust, Helen Ghosh, whose special recognition award gave her the opportunity to open up about the importance of heritage in our everyday lives. Than of course it came to the Volunteer of the Year award which the host, Comedian Ian Moore, presented to the one and only Mrs Jane Mann for her work with the Bailiffgate Museum- A museum dedicated to the history of Alnwick set in their castle quarter. I was not bitter however as I had already secured my award with it being joint winners!

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Tis I up there!

I dare not make this post about me however as i believe showcasing such effort and talent of all involved in these awards puts to rest why volunteering wherever it may be is crucial and rewarding enough to matter nationally. With this I do invite you to seek community work in some form and to come visit me in my natural habitat at the Museum of Oxford on Saturday lunchtimes while the summer lasts! I am happy to delve in further on any of the objects we have at the museum as well as any history pertaining to Oxford on request.

Oh and as one of their volunteers I am morally obliged to provide you with these links below

Museum website and events:

How to volunteer?:

Aged 18-25 and keen to join a group of like minded innovators? check out the link and apply or even just read our blog for the events we have organised!:

Normal historical posting shall resume tomorrow!


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