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April 2016

Hi, I'm Catherine, Curatorial Trainee at the British Motor Museum. I'm a self-confessed museum enthusiast and aspiring curator. I've always been interested in history, and the idea of being a curator appealed to me from a young age, although I had no idea how much hard work it would take! I started my undergraduate degree in Ancient History and archaeology in 2011 and carried on to do a Masters in Museum Studies in 2014. Luckily for me I was offered a traineeship here at the British Motor Museum not long after I graduated.

The museum was fortunate enough to gain funding from Arts Council England. With this, they were able to start a major rebranding and refurbishment operation as well as hire a few trainees (aka me!). My first few weeks as a curatorial trainee revolved around me cataloguing various items in the museum store, but it wasn't long before I was thrown into the deep end and renovation began.

Phase one: the build

Renovation began with the building of a new collections centre. This would house my new office, and be the location of an extensive open store. This new open storage is now an exciting addition to the museum, allowing visitors to look around the previously off display cars. As you can imagine this involved a lot of heavy lifting, which I was, unfortunately, unable to help with. A fortuitous turn of events meant that I was actually on holiday, so while everyone was playing a frustrating game of car Tetris, I was sunning myself on the beaches of Cuba.

Catherine outside the new Collections Centre

Phase two: the aftermath

My return from Cuba didn't just mean getting used to the British weather, but also a new office. Would my key card still work? Would I get lost? Turns out I had nothing to worry about, I even had my own desk now! The renovation was well and truly underway. No longer hidden away in the safety of the museum store – I spent my days out in the wilds of the museum alongside the curatorial support of Steph Gillett and a fantastic team of Visitor Attending staff.

Collectively we painstakingly photographed, documented, cleaned and packed all of the displays in the museum, a total of objects in excess of 1, 000. The process took just over two weeks to complete, but with an empty museum, the designers and builders were soon able to begin their transformation...

It was around the 20th November that the museum was officially closed to the public and we were kicked out until February - but this didn't mean that there wasn't plenty to do!

Not only was I able to do a spot of proof-reading for some of the text you see around you on your visit to the museum, but I was also able to write a bit myself. In early December I also had the fantastic opportunity, alongside fellow trainee Alice Vernon, to attend the Kids in museums: Digital families’ conference at the Museum of London, learning about new ways we could use technology to enhance the visitor experiences for children and families.

Believe it or not, my biggest task over this period actually revolved around keys. While it may have seemed a simple enough task; collecting all of the keys from the cars to organise them alphabetically for re-numbering and labelling - but things are never quite as easy as they seem.

When key fobs attack!

With a collection of 300+ cars, I soon realised that I had perhaps bitten off more than I could chew as I attempted to juggle spare key sets and account for cars out on loan. I also attempted the impossible – predicting the future of the museum’s collections. I hoped that leaving tactical spaces in my master lists for the acquisitions of the future would save someone else from enduring a similar fate to mine.

After seemingly endless weeks of these keys taking over my new desk and subsequently my life, I finally finished in early February. This couldn't have come soon enough, and I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into a new task before I starting having nightmares about key fobs!

The grand re-opening on 13th Feb, meant that we had to undo all of our hard work from the end of last year. Objects were unpacked and redisplayed in new locations. This was a long process of condition checking and review of what had previously been on display to make sure every object out was both relevant and visible to provide the best experience.

Now the only question left was what to do with all the objects that were not put back out on display? Well, as they say, there is no rest for the wicked, and we have another exciting project coming up. Phase three has already begun, stay tuned for updates!

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