Posted by: robbedlyric | February 6, 2012

Internship Induction Special

So…..this is somewhat awks. I seem to have left it a long time between posts. I’ve promised so much and given so little! Because I’ve left it so late this is now an Induction Special. Enjoy. It’s packed with health and safety!

Our first two weeks as Interns was a lot of settling in, being introduced to everyone at the trust, beginning our QCF (it’s like an NVQ but new!) and lots and lots and lots of health and safety. A necessary evil I suppose. We also got to do some fun things like transcribe some of Beatrix Potter’s letters and have a day trip to Kendal with Jeff, the Wordsworth Trust’s curator.

It took a while to get used to the layout of the museum and the adjacent Jerwood Centre building. We also had to learn how to evacuate them in an emergency which led to an incident with some very panicky interns and a very small fire door which may not have been their finest hour. However you’ll be pleased to know that come fire or flood or low flying aircraft the 2012 interns are equipped to deal with every eventuality… we are all officially “competent”.

There are many different aspects to a museum and we were introduced to the roles of education, marketing, fundraising and (in the case of the Wordsworth Trust at least) contemporary literature in the museum structure as well as some of the basics of the objects in the collection. This was to better enable us to decide what sorts of individual projects we want to work on in the coming year and on the last day of our induction we were able to discuss with Jeff what we wanted to achieve during our time here.

A highlight was, of course, our trip to Kendal. We visited several other arts and heritage institutions in the area, Abbot Hall, the Museum of Lakeland Life, the Brewery Arts Centre and Kendal Museum. This gave us an opportunity to see what else was on offer in the area as well as how other organisations work. We also got to sample tea and cake at the beautiful Castle Dairy which is one of the oldest buildings in Kendal and do some networking, making friends with Kendal Museum’s apprentice Aine Holden.

Finally on Friday the museum reopened to the public and we were officially ready to start working for the Trust. My morning was spent following tours in Dove Cottage; others manned the front desk or began project work. There were quite a few visitors taking advantage of the nice, if cold weather so I managed to follow several tours, soon I’ll have to be ready to lead one myself. Nerve-wracking!

The weekend saw snow and Grasmere is beautiful all in white. From now on all ten of us will be working slightly different schedules so we took advantage of our last day all together for a hearty Sunday lunch.

It’s been a hectic, tiring and wonderful first two weeks at Dove Cottage!

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Posted by: robbedlyric | January 23, 2012

First Day.

Today was the first official day of my year long internship! It’s been a really long day full of house-keeping stuff and health and safety and that but we also got to do some really great things.

This morning Jeff, the curator talked to us about our options for our personal projects. We all have different things we want to gain experience in so he went over some of the projects we can get involved in across the museums.

I, for example want to gain curatorial and collections management experience but there are other interns who want to work in education, visitor services and a few other areas. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about some of those things later in the year as they progress too. Ideally I’d like this blog to stand as something people can use to decide if this is an experience for them, so I’d like to cover as much as possible in the future. But that’s the future. Back to today….

Jeff also allowed us to get used to some of the basics of handling rare objects. Objects should obviously be treated with care and respect but it’s no good being afraid to handle them! We were able to handle first editions of Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1850). We learned how to take books down from the shelves, it’s important not to pull the book forward off the shelf by the spine as this can damage the bottom as it rubs on the shelf and the spine will crack. Therefore you push the books either side back gently so you can securely hold the book and lift it from the shelf.

We also talked about the different kinds of damage the books can suffer such as light damage. The rarer copies are often kept in boxes so we talked about how to lift the books from the boxes. Most importantly we were shown how to open the books safely, supporting the book in one hand, with the cover resting on your thumb and allowing the spine plenty of room. As we looked through the books we discovered from the inscriptions that not only were they first editions, they were often presentation copies given by Mary Wordsworth to their friends.

Later in the day we went on a poster walk round the village putting up the posters for the next few weeks’ events. We must have looked quite a sight; all ten of us walking two by two like a school trip out! We walked back to the museum along the river. The rest of the day was dedicated to Visitor Services and the many roles that involves, it’s a very varied part of museum work and as we have a few more introductory sessions to go I think I’ll save that for another post.

Finally at the end of the day we got our first official task as interns, together we have to transcribe a few of the trusts letters by Beatrix Potter for the Beatrix Potter Research Society. Like I said, a very busy day!

This has actually been quite a short post but as this week will be full of new experiences I hope to post quite often. Also I will try to have a long post about last weekend’s Arts & Book Festival up by the end of the week (fingers crossed).

On that note; Goodnight!

Posted by: robbedlyric | January 17, 2012

Internship Angst

Internships and unpaid work have been quietly in the news this week. Cait Reilly, a geology student worked for two weeks shelf stacking in Poundland for no pay. If she refused she risked losing her £53 a week Jobseekers allowance. As a recent graduate I have contemporaries in Cait’s situation, being made to take unsuitable positions for little or no benefit and frankly I’m lucky not to have been put in that situation myself.

The graduate has to do work that gives them no usable experience and someone who would benefit from such experience is denied the opportunity. Let’s be honest, the only person who benefits from that sort of situation is the company who gets the free labour.  The ethics of making someone work in a private company doing a minimum wage level job that would otherwise have cost said company money in order to “earn” their taxpayer funded benefits disturbs me.

Internships in other sectors have also been under discussion. One of the major arguments against internships is the threat to diversity in certain areas of the workforce and social mobility. It is feared that they are biased towards the wealthy and those who are already based in major urban centres, particularly London.

I knew that taking an unpaid internship was necessary for me to gain the experience I needed. Simply volunteering in my spare time just wasn’t feasible. It would have taken me years to get the diverse range of experience required by employers by just volunteering. However it was also a huge risk, I would be giving up paid employment and the security that it offered. When I began to look for placements I was upset but not very surprised that most were in London, very short and offered no financial help whatsoever. There is no way that I would have been able to afford to relocate to London for three or six months to work voluntarily.

Also there would be no guarantee that I would be doing anything worthwhile whilst on these internships and I certainly would leave with any tangible qualifications to prove my skills. There is a hope that in the arts and heritage sector at least this may become a thing of the past. A paid internship scheme with Museums Galleries Scotland has recently been launched with the aim to provide the 20 (very lucky) interns with core skills.

It also, was open to graduates with no previous museums experience which caused a certain level of controversy amongst Museum Studies postgraduates. It was felt by some that this was an example of positive discrimination against more qualified applicants.[1] This begs the question what about those with no degree at all and no museums experience? In an informal discussion it was pointed out to me that even ten years ago the interns and volunteers here at Dove Cottage were far more diverse than they are now. The scheme itself was more informal, there was no application process however there were people from different backgrounds, with and without university qualifications. All the interns on this year’s scheme have at least a bachelor’s degree and those without postgraduate qualifications are in the minority. I believe that this is a sad indictment of how difficult finding employment in almost any sector, not just arts and heritage has become.

Will unpaid internships ever really be a thing of the past however? I think not. Not least because the experience they offer provides an invaluable bridge between academia and the workplace which can often be a bit of a shock. Experience can be gained in a structured, hands-on and professional environment, something that no course at university can give you. We can only hope that more institutions offer some sort of qualification for the interns’ troubles for it will never be possible for most places to pay their interns and that is simply down to lack of funding.

I really have to stress that I am incredibly lucky. When I began to look at getting my internship experience I could never have imagined that I would get a place on such a wonderful scheme. Here at Dove Cottage I get a training bursary which works out around the same amount as Jobseekers allowance. I also am able to claim housing benefit to cover my rent, something that would have been impossible in London. In addition at the end of my year here I come out with a QCF qualification in Cultural Heritage as well as all the valuable experience I’ll gain day to day. It worries me that so many of my peers are not so lucky.


[1] Geraldine Kendall, ‘All Work and no pay”, Museums Journal, January 2012, pp.28-31, p.28. See also, Letters,  Museums Journal, November 2011, p.21

Posted by: robbedlyric | January 13, 2012

Lakeside Stroll

This morning I set off for a short walk around Grasmere Lake. It’s a gentle, circular walk that takes about a half an hour, although I took a flask, my camera and a book so I was out for a good hour and a half.

Setting off from Dove Cottage I turned left onto the A591 and followed the road until the pavement petered out and cut left onto the lake shore.

The footpath took me through the woods around the lake and offers some wonderful views of Grasmere Vale, the lake and the River Rothay as it runs out of Grasmere on its way to Rydal Water.

I crossed the Rothay on the foot-bridge and continued round the lake. There are plenty of benches and vantage points. Since it was a lovely day I saw lots photographers, people fishing and other walkers out and about but I imagine that this could sometimes be a quiet, peaceful little walk.

I found myself a bench with a good view and settled down for a cuppa.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     There were a family of swans, two adults and a cygnet making their way round the lake and they were kind enough to come close to me and let me take their picture. After I was done they headed off the way they came so I guess they came over just to see what I was doing!

Eventually the path veers away from the lake slightly. This part of the walk was slightly uphill and took me back out onto the road into the village and my way home. I’m not much of a walker but this was a pleasant stroll round the lake with lovely scenery and a chance to take pictures, something I’m getting much better at!

Posted by: robbedlyric | January 11, 2012

Cleaning Wordsworth’s Socks

I moved up to Grasmere from Lancaster on Saturday. I’m here a whole two weeks before the other nine interns arrive and the Museum is currently closed for cleaning which means it is very, very quiet here right now.

Fortunately I’m not alone or out in the sticks. Town End, where the museum is situated is a little hamlet just outside Grasmere almost entirely owned by the Wordsworth Trust meaning that there are several employees living on site including the curator. The interns are housed in two adjoining terraced houses, one slightly bigger than the other, and (thank god!) I’m not alone here either. Some of last year’s interns are still here to help with the cleaning and preparations for the upcoming Arts & Books Festival. Also living with me is Mark who works in the Cottage and grounds as well as being a poet.

The room I’ve been assigned is in the slightly smaller of the two houses but from the window I can see Grasmere Lake (not technically a lake but for the purposes of differentiating it from the village that’s what I’m calling it) and a small herd of Herdwick sheep who are living in a field across the road. These sheep are native to the Lake District and are particularly hardy and intelligent. This particular herd like to line up and stare at passersby (or at least me) as they walk into the village, like rows of woolly old ladies nebbing over the walls.

As it is already Wednesday night I ought to write about what I’ve actually been doing for the last four days. I have not just been strolling round the village being stared out by sheep! In fact I have been helping to clean some of the exhibits and items in the museum.

Monday meant the Life Room complete with scary mannequins that seem to loom at you when you least expect it. This room is a mock up of a typical Cumbrian house-place of the early nineteenth century. Since most houses in the area were humble two roomed cottages the house-place would be the family’s main living space and would have also been the place where women would have carried out work such as carding wool and spinning thread. The education team use this room to teach school groups about the Cumbrian way of life and it’s filled with objects such as spinning wheels, cooking implements, lanterns, candle moulds and other essential everyday items. All of which need taking out, gently cleaning and putting back in the exact same place.

The two large, solid wooden mannequins are extremely heavy and the clothing they’re wearing is fragile so we cleaned these in situ using a hog’s hair brush to gently brush down the fabric. These formidable ladies were apparently modelled on real Grasmere ladies in the late 1930’s and constructed in Germany. Rumour has it that they had to be shipped out of Nazi Germany. Being solid wood, they are very heavy and it was thought that they were in fact hollow and being used to smuggle items out of the country. The museum opened in 1943 so this might not be too far-fetched!

Next up was the “Cockerel” life cabinet which sits at the top of the first staircase opposite the Life Room. This cabinet contains items used in daily life and celebrations during Wordsworth’s lifetime. There is a beautiful collection of decorated Pace Eggs made by the Wordsworth’s servant John Dixon whilst they were living at Rydal Mount. The items that really grabbed my attention in this cabinet though were the two sets of lethal looking cockspurs complete in their own decorated boxes.

For those who don’t know cockspurs are long, metal talons which were strapped to the legs of fighting cocks to make sure they inflicted more damage on one another, in some parts of the world where cock-fighting still continues they still are.  These eighteenth century bad boys are up to two inches long with leather straps. One of the boxes has an intricate painted wooden inlay of a fighting cock resplendent, his feathers blue, gold and red on the lid. These were aristocratic cockspurs, well made and in their own way oddly compelling. Someone went to a lot of trouble to arm his prized game cock.

So, to this morning and the Possessions Case. The items here were actually owned and used by William Wordsworth and his family. Sadly not much here dates from their residency at Dove Cottage, instead most dates from Wordsworth’s later life. This is hardly surprising as he had become at this point rather famous and collectors sought items like these as relics of their hero. In much the same way Graceland remains a shrine to the later excess of Elvis Presley yet early items are much rarer.

There is a certain thrill to be had handling items worn or used or even made by a great person even if you have no particular interest in that person’s work. Here we have Wordsworth’s waistcoat, his umbrella, pairs of his spectacles, even his socks. Imagine that, a pair of socks over 160 years old! Look at your socks and imagine someone gently lifting them out of a glass case, checking them for any sign of deterioration and cleaning them gently with a soft brush. Some people might wonder whether looking at and handling something as intimate as a pair of socks takes away from or adds to the mystique of genius?

Is looking at Wordsworth’s socks or Elvis’s underwear reverential or voyeuristic? Does it add to our sense of understanding or would we do better to examine the inner thoughts and feelings left to us in poetry and letters? Or should we be thankful that one man’s fame preserved such everyday items which give us insight into lives beyond his own?

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