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Networking… a good old chin wag

Networking - or, in other words, having a good old catch up! - is vital for us all. Whether it’s with our family at the weekend or museums meeting other museums - we all need and do it.

This past two years has been difficult for networking in so many ways. Zoom and phone calls are great for keeping in contact with one another but face to face contact, sitting down with others and just having a good time is well overdue. It’s important to remember how much some people rely on this. Like many other museums we have our regulars, some of whom live on their own and have no or little family to communicate with; that weekly coffee and a bun in our coffee shop is a lifeline for them and offer human interaction to those who may otherwise go days without seeing or talking to anyone. With this said, we did keep in contact with as many people as we could while we’ve been closed and we are happy to say that everyone is back and the kettle is still on!

Like many other groups, clubs, collections and museums, networking is important and we can now start to network and meet up once more. Our museum is part of a number of networks including the Police History Society, the Accession of Independent Museums and the Fire Heritage Network UK (FHNUK) to name a few. This past weekend some of our team were able to get out and about once more and actually attend the Fire Heritage Network UK’s AGM, in person!

The FHNUK’s AGM this year was hosted by one of its members, the Teeside Airport Fire Engine Rally (TAFER) group, who organise the ever growing Fire Engine and Vintage Vehicle Show at Preston Park, Stockton-on-Tees. With thanks to support from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, the network this year was able to be held at their training centre, where the TAFER group provided a number of local presentations about their group, local history and the developments of the fire service in the area.

As so many members had not seen each other for two years, there was a lot of chatting and catching up to be had. Covid has affected us all in different ways and for some, good things have come from the time and for others, lots has been lost. Having the time to speak with everyone has great and to see how people have got through this has been outstanding to say the least. Again, some with support and some with none!

The second half of the AGM itself gave each group, whether they are a museum, a collection or another organisation, the chance to tell their story and put everyone in the picture as to where they are today and what their future plans are. We’re all busy people and sometimes we need this time to stop and listen to others and this we must do! Networking events exist for communication to happen; why reinvent the wheel or struggle along when others may have already successfully achieved the task you're struggling with. Share ideas and partner up if possible as pulling together is the way forward.

Networks can be old fashioned and like us all NEED to move with the times. It’s not just a saying, it’s a fact… people move on, the world moves on and sadly we lose people too. Standing still is not an option and we always need to bring new people into the mix and not just the same old faces. If we plan to leave a legacy behind, we need to make sure there's someone to leave it for and that someone cares and is interested just as much as us (or in some cases, more than us).

For me, networks should and can easily include museums, groups and collections with just a few related items as so much is interchangeable and can work for all! For example, a club or group currently working hard preserving just one historic fire engine can learn from large museums about the best way to care for materials such as leather and wood. And on the other side, large museums can learn from groups and clubs about how these amazing vehicles were actually designed to operate in an emergency situation, passing first hand knowledge down as well as best preserving these objects for future generations to enjoy and learn about.

With this said, the FHNUK always combines its AGM with study visits to other museums and collections. This year the network set off to Beamish for a behind the scenes look at their workshops and, thanks to the Beamish team, we were able to see just how Beamish keep a 'running fleet' and 'working collection' as well as running a major visitor attraction and caring for an outstanding collection. It’s hard for us to not locate a fire engine, police car or ambulance on our travels and Beamish did not fail. Steam fire engines, horse and manual fire pumps and even a mines rescue exhibition were all great additions to the visit.

After spending the full day at Beamish the final stretch of the network’s AGM was a special trip to ‘Locomotion’ in Shildon. Locomotion is part of the Science Museum Group and all about the story of the railway so where’s the link here you might ask? Well our emergency services are everywhere and the railway is no stranger to this with the British Transport Police, ambulance trains and the railway fire brigade!

Steam trains create a lot of heat, smoke and sparks and with the dry grassy banks of the railways, a fire was common. The railway needed to protect itself and the need for its own fire brigade was a must. Locomotion gave the network the opportunity to see and hear the stories of such and thanks to a brief introduction from Anthony Coulls, one of the railway museum's curators, we learned a lot about this untold side of the railways.

For anyone that has not been, both Beamish and Locomotion are very well worth a visit. See if you can spot the links with the emergency services as you visit too.

Like most other networking groups the FHNUK relocates every year. The 2022 AGM is set to be held in Manchester and the group openly welcomes new members. More information about the network and how to join can be found on their website.

So that’s all for now but please keep following our blogs as we continue to tell the behind the scenes story of life at the museum and share more about the fantastic collection we care for and the stories it tells.

Matt Wakefield


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