The Chairman of the Museum Friends, Nick Williams, explains below the huge effort being made by our volunteer team to get the museum site ready to reopen after its forced five month closure.
From the start of lock down I was one of the small team who carried on popping into the museum to check on the collection, carry out emergency repairs and ensure that all was safe and secure. I felt lucky to have somewhere to go out of the home to, as well as something constructive to do. It’s odd that the small things can become such a relief at times like those, as every other week I looked forwards to my cycle ride up Hints Hill to visit the site.
Although as the weeks went by I became more and more concerned, as the grass grew, paint peeled and sections of trench roof were starting to collapse. The site was looking very sorry for itself and it became clear that it was going to take a lot of work to get the place ready to meet its public again.
The lock down restrictions eventually began to be eased and the news came of the plan to reopen the site to the public on August 1st. Before this could happen the team needed to work out a way to ensure the safety of visitors and staff on site, whilst ensuring the visitor experience was in no way diminished.
The plan included the four weeks of July when limited numbers of people would be allowed on site for general maintenance. The paid staff were being brought back from furlough, but they would be fully committed with administration and working through risk assessments based on government guidelines. As a result the bulk of the work was going to be have to be done by the volunteers and museum friends.
How would people react, there was an awful lot to do and a fairly tight time scale to work with? Would people have concerns about their safety on site, especially with so many of our members being in the more at risk age groups?
I created specific slots on identified days, with people allocated a particular job around the site. It all felt a bit too regimented to me and I was sure it would put people off. When the call went out I need not have worried, the response from our team was overwhelming, so many responded that the challenge became fending people off whilst not putting them off.
By the end of the first week we had pretty much brought the museum back to life and we were able to look at plans to improve what we had. All those little things that we had always wanted to get to. Many members of the group made some great suggestions for improvements, offering to get on with the task. As always we had a good range of volunteers with a varied skills. Some of us did the heavy lifting while others exceled at the detail work and another team worked on a project to produce an interactive self-guided tour of the trench.
Some of the highlights of the work done so far are the spruced up trench network which takes more account of our Mercian links, new information signs in the WW2 Smart Street area and a refreshed home front defense section.
We have also been able to assist the staff in making the museum covid secure. The main reception desk has been redesigned, an outdoor hand wash area has been constructed and many other little safety measures have been put in place.
In summary I think that the friends have managed to take advantage of the forced closure to give the whole site an impressive makeover and I am proud of what’s been achieved. I am sure that our visitors will appreciate all those little improvements and additions. We are lucky in that many of our exhibits are outside and can be enjoyed in a relaxed way, with people knowing that the safety of their party has been considered. I thank every one of our amazing friends group and I am looking forwards to hearing the feedback from our August visitors about the improvements made.