Our amazing curator, Holly Gosling, left NESM this week for pastures new (leaving lots of sobbing colleagues in her wake)...But before she escaped we asked her to write one last blog reflecting on her time with the museum. Here it is. Savour it...
So this is it! The last ever blog I shall write as Holly the Curator. How bizarre.
I started at NESM five years ago as a visitor services coordinator. I then moved to visitor experience coordinator and then with one thing or another wound up 'temporarily' holding the curatorial post. Except it wasn’t so temporary in the end.
So what’s it been like as a 26 year old curator of a nationally styled museum full of fire engines, handcuffs, bandages and more? In one word; insane.
In five years I’ve driven in vehicles that are over 70 years old, I’ve fed leeches, put nappies on ponies, held parrots in waistcoats, polished far too much brass, done a lot of cabinet gymnastics, helped vampire nuns for a film, welcomed the collection of the detective in charge of the Jack the Ripper case, helped write a book or two, was filmed for the telly and built a Victorian apothecary. Just to name a few…
So much has changed over the last five years but every moment has been fantastic, bonkers or terrifying. Some days were certainly a mix of the three.
We’ve enjoyed so many special moments but also seen lots of challenges, from burglars to floods and not to mention Covid. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I am privileged to have met some amazing people, from heroic firefighters to people who have changed the course of emergency services history. I’ve also had the joy of working in a beautiful heritage building (alright she’s a bit leaky and you need a jumper or three in the winter) with one of the best teams you could ever wish for.
Working for a charity in a close-knit community has been full of challenges but overcoming them has been one of the most satisfying feelings. Team NESM put so much heart and soul into what they do and it shows; from the in-house exhibitions to pulling through Covid. I may be biased but they are the most dedicated, hard-working individuals who are bursting with passion and working for a team like that has been a wonderful experience.
I’ve learnt so much and I’ve had a brilliant mentor who gave me an entirely honest introduction to the world of independent museums. Unlike many museums in the sector, there was no gate-keeping and any ideas I had were valued. Without such a great mentor I could never have gotten to where I am today. But it wasn’t all positive, together we explored the harsh realities of the independent museum sector and I learnt a lot from those challenges, from funding issues to local authority hurdles.
But the challenges were always balanced with the positives and one of those has been the honour of working with such a special collection. It’s a collection that has turned me from having no previous emergency services interest or understanding to being a huge advocate of the heritage. NESM’s large and varied collection is like putting on a fabulous pair of glasses and through them you can see the potential in very ordinary, often over-looked objects. It’s taught me that behind every object is a unique story, no matter how mundane it may look. For example, that hose may look like an ordinary hose but it just so happens to be a prototype that was used in a real fire, and it worked out so well that they went on to use that type for the next 70 years.
Everything has a story and every story is worth telling.
But the largest lesson I learnt looking after the NESM collection is undoubtedly how magic emergency services heritage really is. Now hear me out, you may not feel the love for a fire engine, and you may look at a police tunic and shudder, but the magic of our emergency services history is that it’s the perfect lens to explore human history as a whole. From our emergency services history we can learn so much about the past, present and future. A police uniform can tell you a lot about the wearer as an individual but you can track changes in crime, criminal law and more. How? Well, a woollen tunic demonstrates the simplicity of an early emergency service and the types of activities and crimes they were tasked with. Fast forward to an armed police uniform, it tells us about today’s crime concerns, changes in technology and societal values. And that’s just two uniforms!
Can you imagine what a collection of over 300,000 objects could show us?
Whilst I can appreciate a beautiful ceramics collection or marvel at a mighty militaria collection our emergency services heritage has so much depth and variety; it both captures particular communities whilst simultaneously reflecting society as a whole. And to me that’s magic you don’t get anywhere else.
But overall, NESM has been a once in a lifetime experience for me. Our team is like a family and our visitors are the best (not that I’m biased). It’s been such a weird and wonderful journey and I can’t see it being one that gets repeated. I’m sure I’ll have many more adventures but NESM will always have a special place in my heart.
The museum is in the best position it’s ever been in and we’re about to embark on some very exciting projects so I feel it’s only right to give someone else the opportunity to work within this bonkers team and have the special experiences that I have.
To our lovely visitors, continue to support the museum. Our staff love you and appreciate you more than you could know.
And to the team, you’re all exceptional human beings. Continue the hard work and don’t do anything I wouldn’t.
Thanks for the adventures,