Although it goes without saying that NESM is a brilliant place to visit, we don't rely on people coming into our building to share the NESM experience; we get out and about to make plenty of visits of our own, both in and around Sheffield and further afield. Just this week, for example, we were pleased to take part in a big Platinum Jubilee celebration in Sheffield City Centre, displaying a few of our vintage vehicles and meeting with lots of people enjoying the long bank holiday weekend.
Attending public events like these is a big part of our work. Not only does it allow us to spread the word about the extraordinary history of the emergency services and the people that contributed to them over the centuries, but also to take the work of our museum and our collection to a wider audience. It’s a great way of reaching people who might, for whatever reason, not be able to come to see us at West Bar, or who might not even have considered visiting us, or museums in general. It helps us to enrich the communities our museum is here to serve. This kind of community engagement is vital to us and is something we'd like to do more of.
With that in mind, we are always looking for ways to engage the wider community with our activities and to involve those who may otherwise not even know that NESM exists.
One of our recent endeavours to help us achieve this is NESM’s History Club, set up a few months ago by our curator Holly in partnership with the Sheffield charity Ben’s Centre. The Centre, which aims to provide a safe space for those suffering from substance misuse and its associated barriers, has over 25 years of experience supporting people through recovery. Many of their clients have experienced homelessness, with the Centre providing a sanctuary embodying its values of 'inclusion, opportunity, and motivation to live unhindered by trauma and substance dependency'.
Holly’s aim was to actively invite people who may not otherwise be able to access museums, or who may lack the confidence or opportunities to get involved with heritage, to join History Club. We aim to give them the chance to get involved with our work, including planning new exhibitions, and show them that NESM is open and available for everyone with an interest in history or our museum's activities.
History Club is driven by its members who decide the projects they would like to undertake. The first will be to plan and host an exhibition about the experiences of police officers during the major industrial disputes of the 1980s, including the famous Miners' Strike. NESM is providing space in one of our police galleries for the exhibition - which we hope will open in January 2023 - which will be organised and created by the History Club members, with assistance from members of #TeamNESM.
We hope that as History Club becomes a more established part of our community engagement it will grow and broaden its remit, featuring talks from experts and trips to other museums and cultural sites. Just last week the club held its first ‘away day’ with a visit to the National Coal Mining Museum (NCCM) in Wakefield (right). Part fact-finding trip, part fun day out, we were welcomed by NCMM curator Anne, who led an interesting discussion on the Miners’ Strike from the perspective of the strikers. We were able to discuss how our museums could work together to tell the story of that particular dispute from both sides, drawing on our individual areas of expertise in the coal mining industry and the emergency services.
Then, of course, it was time for a tour down the mine!
As anyone who has visited the NCCM will tell you, this was the highlight our day (or lowlight depending on how claustrophobic you are). We were taken down deep beneath the earth and shown around the disused mine by our very knowledgeable and informative guide - a former coal miner himself - who took us on a tour of mining through the ages. Equipped with a torch and hardhat we walked (and crawled) through the tiny spaces where people once spent their days in search of 'black diamonds'. We were shown where Victorian children once dwelt in total darkness, and 'pit ponies' who never saw the light of day, carted loads along the dirty tunnels. Our club members were all fascinated to hear our guide’s tales and were able to ask questions as we went around. Most of us discovered that mining life would not have been for us!
Fortunately we all emerged safely and all agreed we'd had a great day which had left us with plenty to think about and lots of inspiration for our forthcoming exhibition.
Hopefully this visit will just be the first of many for our History Club. We really hope that it will become a fixture of our community engagement activities and will go from strength to strength.
If you would like more information on NESM’s History Club and how to get involved, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org