When we opened up as a pop-up in Ocean Terminal we did not anticipate that we would have so many objects and memories donated by our visitors. At that time our policy was never to say no and to try to accept all donations ranging from the smallest bible which required a magnifying glass to read the print to a wardrobe and cabinet made by a local joiner; a 1950s kitchen cabinet to an empty cardboard box of Smarties; an early 1940s television to an Amstrad Notebook, as well as numerous early mobile phones. Lots of Singer sewing machines: treadle versions, hand and electric ones, as well as paper sewing patterns. Vacuum cleaners: Hoovers of all shapes, sizes and eras. Washboards: we’ve got glass ones and galvanised steel ones, and some that are a combination of the two. Typewriters, telephones, irons (flat, steam, coal, gas, paraffin and electric), kettles, teasmades, rolling pins, biscuit tins, iron shoe lasts aplenty (single and multiple ones), as well as stone hot water bottles of various sizes. Silver Cross carriage-built prams, dolls’ prams, and push-along and sit-on horses (as well as rocking ones). Boxes of Meccano, board games, desks with school books and jotters, and shelves of Ladybird early reader books. Guide and Brownie uniforms, BB and Scout uniforms, as well as canvas rucksacks and camping gear. Wedding dresses from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Cameras galore, from Box Brownies and Kodak Instamatics to cine and video cameras. Think of any one thing from your life, from childhood to adult age, and it’s likely we will have it somewhere!
We started off in a unit on the ground floor of OT, then progressed up a level; we’re now in a much larger space on the second floor – and even here we do not have enough space to store and display our donations. Moving to an even bigger space seemed unlikely, but when Debenhams closed we came up with a cunning wheeze that we could move into it…a lunch time chat which had us all laughing! All the more disbelievingly when OT then actually approached us about running it as a community hub space…and so now we have The Wee Hub as well as The Wee Museum
The longer-term objective to have The Wee Museum of Memory recognised as an accredited museum means, that we have had to review how we accept and record donations; as well as how we store and look after them. This means that we have to make sure our improved records are kept up-to-date with information not only about the donor but with photographs, and descriptions about the appearance and condition of the object. Donations have to be quarantined before they are processed in order to ensure that they do not introduce any infestations (such as moths – always a major concern for collections with textiles) or bookworm, which could spread to the rest of the displays. The next stage is recording where it will be stored or displayed (or loaned). Some donations have been moved back into storage to improve the displays in the public space and to make it easier for visitors to appreciate the objects when they are visiting the museum – we now also have an audio tour which includes descriptions and recordings of personal reminiscences which can be accessed via a Smartphone or using one of our MP3 players. And as we are a ‘hands-on’ space, a lot of our collection is handled by visitors – or borrowed by other groups for reminiscence. This means we have to record any change in condition – breakages or deterioration.
These procedures are all necessary so that we can achieve the required Spectrum standard for museum collections. The processing of ‘donation to display’ now takes much longer and it also means that individual donations have to be considered more carefully. Should we take another shoe last, stone hot water bottle, iron or camera? Can we find space for more sewing machines, prams and record players? Are boxes of miscellaneous objects going to be accepted?
Without our donations we would not have any collections to display. Visitors have created this museum, but we now need to consider changes in policy going forwards. What do we do with donations in the future? How can we process and store them? This is a dilemma faced by virtually all museums. At the moment we are in the fortunate position of having the Wee Hub as extra space for displaying some of the collection. However this will not be permanent so there is no doubt that we will need to consider how and what we can realistically manage in the future… otherwise we might just burst at the seams!
We appreciate receiving donations very much, but what we love most are the memories that go with the donations – what made it special to your life, your family, your home. As we review our donations and collections, the importance of memories will continue be at the heart of our policies.