Museum Makers: William Tregaskes, Cynon Valley Museum
Museum co-ordinator William Tregaskes talks about how important it is to widen access to museums, and how social media can help to build a community of museum professionals.
Museums are here for people; without us they are just storage units. I want to see the space full, lively and used by the community. I want the museum to feel like their own, a centre of the community, the space used for whatever they need. My job as museum co-ordinator is about managing the gallery programme, getting people to use the museum and managing internal income streams, generating sustainable income.
My first museum job exposed me to the reality of museums, working directly with the public. I was working front of house at the Roman Baths as a visitor services assistant. I thought it was just a bridge to somewhere else as I continued to study, but I found that I loved the public-facing side of museums and the communication and preservation of intangible heritage. I learned where and when to gain experience, attending free training and only volunteering if I would develop a new skill. I had direction, I knew what I wanted to do.
I had always been told to get experience in a small museum where roles are broad, getting you doing everything. I had volunteered in various museums in South Wales to improve my skill set beyond what my current job offered, learning about their structures and needs. This included the Cynon Valley Museum. Being a volunteer gave me an insight into what they wanted and the values they held. I approached the interview with them in mind, showing my capabilities from working in a busy museum and the knowledge that free training and selective volunteering had provided.
The museum is changing almost daily. We are growing and every day is different. Some days I spend the entire day behind my desk looking at spreadsheets, others I am up and around the museum, supporting events, working in the shop or fixing the toilet seat. But I would not have it any other way. We are a small museum, there is no gap between staff and the public and I love that. People coming in and being able to have a chat with us makes the museum personal, it makes the museum a community. I hope it gives a sense of ownership.
Working in a small museum offers so much experience – but know your limits. I have been able to work across the museum, from exhibitions and income generation to operations and events. I have learned so much about the differing needs of the people who use the museum and the museum itself. But I have had to learn about my capacity, and the need to say no. You cannot do everything, you will run out of time and energy. Your wellbeing is the most important.
I cannot say how important taking part in #museumhour on Twitter was for me. I met hundreds of museum professionals from home, establishing connections and friendships which made meeting them in person so much easier.
Front of house impacts every visitor. You are the human face of the museum, you are the people who visitors remember. Front of house is a great entry point into the museum sector, whether it's a career in front of house or a bridge to somewhere else.
Discover the purpose of museums and the importance of people; help it shape your understanding. Don’t be afraid to have a view, use social media to build your identity, take part in online events such as #museumhour, share your experiences. Take advantage of the free training, look to your local museum groups, your emerging museum professional group and the networks which are forming advocating for change.
We have the potential to define museums for a generation. Museums are changing fast; networks are forming across the sector, many are advocating for seismic changes in how we operate and value people.
Museums must be accessible to all. Still too many see museums as unreachable. Change starts in front of house – we are the human face of every museum, but currently many feel undervalued. I want to stay in front of house, advocating for change and creating new reasons for people to use museums.
Museum Makers highlights the contributions, careers and expertise of museum professionals nationwide. From marketing to retail, front of house to management, our museum makers reveal what goes on behind the scenes of the UK's cultural institutions.