128: ding! Round 2

This week has been somewhat marred by the return of Covid – once again, I tested negative for four days despite having symptoms. On Monday I tested negative in the morning so went off merrily to work, and then tested positive in the evening. I had to apologise profusely to the various people I had seen over the day: many colleagues, as we were working at the All Points East festival, several D&D playing children as I had sat in on a session in the morning with Jo Levin of Encounter Terrain (feeding into one of the new galleries), their dads, another colleague…and here’s a general apology to the 350 odd people we engaged with over the day too. Eek! Sorry, people.

Jo Levin and a vertical terrain

However, I’m only issuing a very begrudging apology to the lady who came to our area with her grandchildren and spent a good twenty minutes telling me how disgusting it is that we are redeveloping the museum. She has allegedly spoken to HUNDREDS of people who are all outraged. ‘I bet you hear this all the time!’ she said. ‘You must have had so many people complaining, especially as you didn’t bother consulting anyone about it.’ Actually, no, I said – you’re the first.

Well, five years of consultation with local groups (‘well, I didn’t see any of it’), with public events in the museum (‘well, I was always in there and I never saw any’), press coverage (‘not in my local paper’), focus groups and outreach events apparently don’t count because we didn’t ask her and everyone she knows. We have no right to change history, she said, and she’d been going there for SEVENTY YEARS and she worked in EDUCATION and for OFSTED and how DARE we change things? It was a LOCAL museum for LOCAL PEOPLE. The fact that the head of Ofsted is one of our trustees and approves of the changes cut no ice. I, personally, was ruining her life with my new-fangled galleries and callous disregard for EVERYONE’s childhood. Meanwhile, her grandchildren were thoroughly enjoying the blue blocks, which will be a feature of one of those new-fangled galleries. And on she went….and on, and on. And, in fact, on.

Things 1 and 2 enjoying the old museum before we ruined everyone’s childhood.

The fact that we aren’t funded by the local council was not a factor, apparently, and neither was the fact that it’s 16 years since the last rebuild – when quite a lot of the museum (and therefore history) was changed. Conservation was not an issue – she didn’t care that some things can only stay on display for a certain length of time before they start to degrade, people like to see the same things when they visit after twenty or thirty years. She does not care that her grandchildren will be able to engage more with objects, or that it will be more interesting for them, or that there will be exciting new objects and stories. She was keen to inform me, also, that we had been closed SO LONG that the younger grandchild had never even been there, and the older one couldn’t remember it. She did not care that the building work we were doing will make the space more accessible for her and her buggy. A colleague with conservation experience came to my aid, but to no avail. We were RUINING everyone’s lives with our CHANGES to HISTORY. She did not want to hear that all the objects she liked would be more accessible in the new Storehouse space, where they would be in better conditions (ie not in a damp basement or, in the case of the wax dolls, melting in horror-movie fashion in the heat of an uninsulated Victorian greenhouse) and could be seen alongside the rest of the museum’s collections. Eventually we extricated ourselves and she went to supervise her grandchildren, who were having great fun building things. My poor line manager was next in the sights, and the woman had still not run out of steam.

Whatever major project you embark on, especially in a place which was as well-loved and such a feature of an East End childhood as the museum, will have its detractors and people who want things to remain the same – luckily they are in the minority, and most of the people we engage with are excited by the new developments and can’t wait for us to reopen. As a team we are excited about the opportunities to reimagine the space, to enhance our own objects with amazing things from the wider collection, to create a museum which is for young people rather than about them. Luckily, most of the people we meet are coming with us on the ride and are looking forward to next year.

Those of you who know me in real life would be proud of my restraint, especially when I really wanted to paraphrase Frank-N-Furter and say ‘well, I didn’t make it for you’.

Gratuitous Tim Curry picture

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Testing negative for Covid yesterday and being able to go to Jill’s Tiaras and Bowties party
  • A mooch around the charity shops of Bishops Stortford with Miriam and Lesley
  • Meeting a new kitten belonging to a neighbour
  • Dropping a skirt size (hurray for the HRT, I think!)
  • Benylin original cough mixture
  • Thing 1 doing really well in her GCSEs

So there we are! Covid-free once again, and hoping to go and meet another kitty this afternoon.

See you next week! Let’s be careful out there.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Days of Anna Madrigal – Armistead Maupin

Logical Family: a memoir – Armistead Maupin

Grand Union – Zadie Smith

How to Raise an Elephant – Alexander McCall Smith

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