The SHARE Front of House Forum was launched in April 2013 and has gone from strength to strength, raising the profile of this vital area of museum work through seminar events and training opportunities. Earlier this year we advertised for an Early Career Volunteer to join a new steering group for this growing network. Gemma Leader, Collections Officer at the Garden City Collection, took up the challenge! Here she tells us what Front of House means to her, and why it was important for her to join the Forum.
After volunteering in visitor-based roles in Hitchin and London, I now realize just how crucial Front of House is within the heritage sector. As the face of a museum, Front of House can strongly influence a visitor’s overall impression. There is a danger of Front of House staff being viewed as undertaking work ‘below’ that of Curators, Collections Assistants and Conservators. This is certainly not true, with Front of House staff forming a strong back-bone to museums through actively welcoming visitors, providing knowledge of exhibition displays and collections, giving directions, helping disabled visitors, dealing with enquiries, helping with important security matters and much more. In some smaller museums, such as Handel House Museum in London, many Front of House staff and volunteers participate in giving talks and tours, which prove incredibly popular. Without the Front of House, where would we be?
Shortly after graduating, I attended several SHARE training days to gain more knowledge and practical skills, in order to improve my CV and to help me take my first step on the museum career ladder. I was introduced to SHARE whilst interning at the Garden City Collection in Letchworth (where I now work), I was excited and enthused that such an organization existed. I jumped at the chance to attend one-off training days with SHARE, which are a lot easier to fit in around a paid job than 3 day-a-week internships. Not only this, the variety of short courses and training days available with SHARE is immense, and it is possible to tailor one’s interests and hone practical skills needed for specific careers.
After starting my first museum-based job as a Collections Officer back in January, I now wish to get more involved in voluntary work again. The truth is there are so many exciting opportunities out there that can’t be missed. As a Collections Officer within a relatively small team (only three of us), I am fortunate enough to take on jobs that Exhibitions Officers, Front of House staff and Museum Marketing staff would be doing in larger organizations.
The Front of House work I undertake is beginning to increase, with the opening of our ‘Saving the 70’s’ exhibition, part of the HLF funded project across 11 Hertfordshire and Suffolk museums. Being based at the exhibition means it is possible to interact with visitors, encouraging people to share their memories through oral histories and post-it notes on exhibition panels. This has been an eye opening experience and I wish to continue to be involved with visitor work in the future through SHARE’s Front of House Forum. This is an exciting opportunity and I am sure it will be very rewarding. It will also be a great chance to meet new people from other museums across the East of England. At my first meeting a few weeks back at the Fitzwilliam, several new projects were discussed and ideas bounced around, making the Front of House Forum a positive and proactive hub for museums in the East of England.