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Workforce Development conference from the eyes of those behind it all

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So it is over, a month since the workforce development conference and it seems like a good time to reflect.

The conference team, Nick, Alice, Kate, Ellie, Helen and I had two days to make the final preparations including making the name badges, the delegate packs, designing the signage and ensuring everything was in place ready for the off. Typically for the end of November, there were germs going round with half of the conference team feeling the sniffles.

Eventually the big day came and despite all of our preparations there were unforeseen hiccups that we could not have prevented. A TV screen which we planned to use and had tested would not work, and we could not find an extension cord and worst of all one of our workshop speakers called to say he might not be able to make it in. But our weeks of planning and preparation had prepared us for this, so we were ready. The TV was turned off and on again, two extension cords were located just for good measure, and with the support from Nick and Kate the speaker was able to do his session.


Maria Foy giving her speech.


The conference was held in a rather cold Old Courtroom, part of the Royal Pavilion Estate just across the road. The Mayjor of Brighton & Hove opened the day, followed by Helen Graham, leader of the Workforce Development programme; Abigail Thomas, line manager of the staff involved; and Maria Foy, an ex-staff member who developed skills in the programme to set up her own company. We then heard from some external speakers including London Museum Development on innovative training approaches to cross-departmental working; Norwich Teaching Museum, Extend (engage) on Co-production: Nothing About Us Without Us; and the Museums Association on the Transformers programme.

After a lunch break the first of two workshop sessions started. I was quite disappointed that I was not able to watch some of these sessions because I had my own workshop to run on the Pavilion Tales programme. The session included a short tour round the building, including some of the areas the tales have focused on, a talk from Maria Foy who set up the programme and me on taking over since Maria left. I have given talks to the public before, but there is something more nerve wracking when the talk is to peers. Despite starting off nervously I managed to get into the swing of it even answering all of the questions with only a little difficulty.

One of our workshop signs.


After my own workshop Nick and I swapped places between steward and presenter for the session he was presenting with Ted on their work with the conservation department. When it had been uncertain if Ted would be able to make the session through other commitments, Nick had organised for Gaye the conservation manager to present with him. The session turned into a medley of Nick’s experience of working with the conservation team; Gaye’s management perspective of how it has helped the under staffed department; and Ted’s wealth of knowledge on the history of the copperware that they have been working on.

Photo of John Orna-Ornstein of Arts Council England

John Orna-Ornstein of Arts Council England

Back in the Old Courtroom for the last part of the day it had warmed up from the introduction of heaters which we had borrowed from other parts of the estate. John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Museums at Arts Council England, closed the day discussing the importance of programmes like Workforce Development and how he had been helping develop a museum course for local college students that same day. During his talk he remembered my presentation I gave at the Transform People to Transform Museums conference in Colchester a few months before on the ways in which Workforce Development helped me to gain skills I needed to be able to secure the job I was not ready for earlier this year. I was rather humbled and embarrassed that he remembered such a story but it also made me remember how far I have come in such a short year.

Alice and Nick closed the day by summing up their experiences of the Workforce Development programme and the day. Neither of them had experience of public speaking and it took a lot of guts for them to get up and talk. Although I was rather jealous, it used to be that presenting at a conference was a rare thing — now it feels like everyone has done it!!!

Alice and Nick presenting to close the conference.

As part of their talk Alice and Nick reminded people of the drinks reception and Fashion Cities Africa gallery talk given by Curator Helen Mears and we all headed over to Brighton Museum. The gallery talk gave the rest of us enough time to run around putting out popcorn and filling glasses. Although there were more staff than delegates at the reception it was a great way of thanking the staff who had worked so hard on the day and before, for preparing their presentations, and a lovely way of carrying on the conversations.

We were locally trending on Twitter

Overall the day was a major success despite the cold temperatures. We even managed to be locally trending on Twitter for a bit. If you had asked me that morning if I would run another conference, I would have said NO, not ever. Ask me now and I say bring it on!

Holly Parsons, Visitor Services Officer