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11 December 2019

All in a Neigh’s Work for Alana and Charlie! Community Engagement Trainees at Palace House illuminate their role in the Programme, ‘Transforming People to Transform Museums’

Fascinated by History

Hi, I’m Alana, and I am currently one of the Community Engagement Trainees at Palace House in Newmarket as part of the Suffolk Museums ‘Transforming People to Transform Museums’ programme. This is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund Skills for the Future initiative. At school I loved History and knew that I wanted to have a career that gave me the chance to carry on this interest. When I first heard about the traineeship I had to apply as this is a unique opportunity to kick-start a career in the heritage sector, while also giving me the chance to gain experience in all of the different museum roles. I do not have a background in horse racing, however, since I started around two months ago I have already learnt a great deal about it and the history that it entails.

Hi, I’m Charlie – you guessed it, I’m the other Community Engagement Trainee based at Palace House. In the summer I finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths at Hills Road in Cambridge. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting museums over the years, and really enjoy learning about the stories connecting objects to people. I heard about the traineeship while volunteering in the galleries here at Palace House, and after enjoying the volunteering so much, I decided this would be an amazing opportunity to learn more about what it’s like to work in museums.

Brave new world

From our very first day as trainees we were given a taster of some of the events that we would be getting involved in throughout the year. We arrived at Palace House on one of the busiest weeks for the education team, as it was Dubai Future Champions Week, which involves pupils from Newmarket Academy visiting many key aspects of the horseracing industry here in Newmarket. Once we were introduced to the team of museum staff, we were set to the task of guiding the school children to their activities around the museum site. We were certainly thrown in the deep end that first week! Helping run education activities for an entire year group is no small feat, but being so busy meant there was no time for first-day nerves. It was wonderful seeing young people excited about the local heritage; and meeting the horses is always a popular activity.

Our first chance to work with the curator and conservator saw us searching for objects to put into a small exhibition about the horseracing legend, Lester Piggott. This was then displayed at the Rowley Mile Racecourse from the 11th-13th October. Helping set up the display was a great experience that helped get the ball rolling for the coming weeks and months, as we’ve spent lots of time working with the collections team and learning how objects are documented and cared for. At the end of a busy first week we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon at the races, watching the horses parade and compete.

Heart of the Community

One of the first activities that we helped to organise and run was the October half term craft activity ‘Helping Hands’. This involved having families from the community drawing around their hands and then decorating it any way they wanted. These were then attached onto our model of a horse to emphasise how horses are measured in hands, and to bring a wellbeing message to the activity. We were over the moon at the response from this; over 100 hands were decorated during the week! Our model horse Fred is looking great covered in all the amazing artwork, and stands proudly on display in the King’s Yard.

A special task

During our first month here at Palace House we were also given the opportunity to take part in the creation of an exhibition about the late horse racing pundit John McCririck. This was a privilege to be a part of as we were given the chance to work on it from the very beginning right up to the opening of the exhibition. It was an honour to be a part of a project surrounding someone who is so well recognised within the racing community, and beyond. It was so interesting to put this display together, as clothes and accessories are such personal items, they gives a real sense of the person, and really connects someone to their story.

Seasonal fun

We are currently putting the finishing touches on our Christmas craft activity; a tree-mendous mobile making workshop allowing visitors to work their way through the King’s Yard galleries, collecting decorations for their trees as they go. For the festive season we are also putting together a nutcracker trail, for visitors to search the site using clues to look for our six nutcrackers. It is a fascinating learning experience to be able to develop these activities, coming up with an original plan and then working with others to develop these ideas in order to achieve the best outcome.

Over Christmas and into the New Year, the museum is hosting the George IV: Royalty, Racing and Reputation exhibition, and we are working on family activities to supplement that exhibition. Finally, we’re starting to get the ball rolling for ‘Twilight at the Museum’ in February; our after-hours museum adventure! We have come up with the idea of a character escaping from one of the paintings in Palace House and visitors have to help her find her way back. It will be an interesting process and we can’t wait to see the finalised outcome of the activity.

We really look forward to seeing what this year has in store for us, we’re sure we’ll be busy whatever comes our way.

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