‘Just trying to keep my customer satisfied’
So, we are now in week 8, and wow how time flies when you are having fun. This week we have started the third and final strand of our Innovative Museum Practice in Museums and Galleries module, where we are starting to look at Leadership and Heritage Site Management.
The week started off with Gurminder Kenth, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Manager, telling us about all things management at the museum. We covered everything from health and safety, and facilities, through to staff management and what qualities are vital to being an excellent museum manager. The lecture was then followed by, a short but sweet tour of all things customer service, by Pat Ferrins, Visitor Services Manager at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. She showed us the fundamentals of good customer service, as well as why customer service is so important to ensuring the survival of any cultural site no matter how big or small.
For Thursdays practical session we headed over to one of BMTs heritage sites, Blakesley Hall. This beautiful Tudor hall is one of the oldest buildings in Birmingham, and was built in 1590 by Richard Smallbroke. The session was hosted by Stephen Spencer, Museum Team Manager at Blakesley Hall, and we started off by meeting in the newly added conference room. This excellent addition to the hall, Stephen explained, had helped to ensure the hall could offer more corporate event space, with the conference room being an ideal area for wedding receptions, or for local community groups to meet.
‘…knowing your audience is crucial, heritage sites still rely on local people.’ – Stephen Spencer Museum Team Manager Blakesley Hall. After talking about all things facts and figures, we moved on to the tour of the hall.
Both the volunteers and staff have an immense amount of knowledge about the history of the hall, covering everything from its Tudor beginnings, up to more recent history including the halls links to World War I. With Stephen showing us a Word War I exhibition he curated that has been running in one of the upstairs rooms in the hall for the past three years. For the display Blakesley Hall collaborated with the Imperial War museum to gather images and items to showcase the history of the local area.
Story telling through the history of Blakesley Hall is a crucial part of visitors connecting to the hall, and therefore feeling a sense of ownership to the history of the building. This is why the hall runs numerous large events throughout the year including re-enactment days, falconry day, apple picking day, as well as the Ale Festival, Plague and Pestilence for Halloween and a wide range of Christmas events. These events not only showcase the amazing building that is Blakesley hall to a wider audience, but also its history to local people, as well as providing a platform for local businesses.
Partnerships with local community libraries, groups, schools and organisations allows Blakesley to contribute to its surrounding community, and in turn enables local people to have a say in the development of the hall. To ensure the building is accessible for all a family room is being created within the hall. This will be aimed at younger children, and will provide traditional Tudor games, as well as the chance to dress-up, and watch videos about the history of the hall. It is hoped this extra facility will make it easier for families with younger children to access the hall, and to learn about its history. Over 120 surveys were filled out by visitors at the hall to help inform the process of the development of a family room within Blakesley hall.
Another important part of Blakesley hall is its grounds, which are free for the public to visit. They offer a serene, tranquil environment in the heart of a suburban area of Birmingham. I can imagine it would be a lovely place to relax on a warm summers day and to forget about the city which surrounds you.
As well as the grounds being free, the site also hosts regular free access days to the hall, and these are held at key times throughout the year. With a large section of the population living in surrounding areas being from lower socio-economic groups, it is extremely important to ensure free days remain at Blakesley as they are a vital part of Blakesley hall remaining connected to its local community.