Guest blog – My School Work Experience Placement at Discovery Museum, by Daniel Cockling

When I was first told about work experience, I only had the vaguest of ideas what that would involve; and more importantly, where I would do it. I have always been interested in History and museums, so after a lot of drafts just to get it perfect, I finally sent a letter off to John Clayson. And luckily he said that yes, I could come for a week to follow people around the place to do work for them. Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as just turning up at the door. There were, naturally the health and safety forms, as well as my school having to agree that the Discovery was ok to go to. Happily for me they did, and here I am three months later, sitting in the Learning Office telling you all about it.

Sadly, I could not take part in a full week here, since there were not enough people with enhanced CRB checks to allow me to legally be in, but on Tuesday I was in the entrance hall by Turbinia signing in. It was then, once installed at a desk in the office (with my own phone) that I found out how much working in a job was just a little bit like hard work. On that day, I actually got a mini tour of the museum, even getting to go into where they conserve objects, and then store them out of the way because they don’t have enough space to show everything. One of the many weird things I saw in the depths was a giant freezer, which they use to destroy any harmful bugs on artefacts before they are put back into controlled conditions – it’s not very good to have moths eat away at your clothes at the best of times, but 200-year-old dresses need to be extra protected.

On the Wednesday Sarah showed me the database of everything TWAM has stored away in its many locations. This was very fun, just because of the sheer range of objects filed away; like a letter from Tony Blair about a petition to him or the switch from the first electric cooker in the area, a display model mistakenly sold to the donor before anyone had had the chance to show it off in the shop. I also worked up in the History Office, going through questionnaires my classmates had completed, all about electric lighting and how they use them. Although they had not been very keen do them, I still got them back in, giving a rough idea of what we should keep for the future generation’s history lessons. The whole idea around it was to eventually expand the current light bulb collection here; using modern examples just like John Henry Holmes did back in his day.

Thursday was all about researching where on earth you could get certain types of light bulb, and how much they would cost. In fact, for almost every type of bulb I could find a supplier – except for street lights. Obviously, one does simply buy a street light, so this proved quite challenging. But, at last, I did discover that the new street lights being set up around the north east were in partner with SSE, so I’ve left John with that task to contact them and get hold of one. If I’d have been here for longer, I would have contacted them myself, but a week is just too short in which to get used to the long term side of running a museum. I was also given the opportunity to observe the media side of the museum, watching a new pamphlet being designed by Rachel for the Hatton Gallery. This was more challenging than the previous leaflet they had, because it features a tear-off side as well as every other side already there, making it instantly more confusing to put together. With the advent of the new gallery on Weddings, I was then used as free labour to peel of vinyl labelling from a wall, resulting in a great chat with Richard, the guy I was working alongside, and several chipped nails. They really do know how to stick stuff down so that it stays there! I rounded off the day by doing a walkthrough of all the galleries with two of the men, Mick and Tom, who bimonthly do this, and are responsible for keeping everything securely screwed down and non-lethal. They then deal with their entire list of problems throughout the next two weeks and begin it all again.

Finally, on my last day here at the Discovery Museum, I ended up finishing off the initial research into acquiring light bulbs for the expanding collection and, as you can probably guess, writing this blog for the website. I was, however, put into use to help get the final preparations for the new gallery on migrating to Newcastle ready. This, nicely for me, involved carrying various bits of Victorian dressing up clothes around the building – giving a much needed break from sitting and staring at a computer screen all day.

Throughout all of my four days working here I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I came here to find out what work was about, and what people do when they put together professional history displays and educate visitors. And now, upon leaving, I have decided that it is extremely enjoyable thing to do, and the amount of variation in your job means that you can never get bored – you’re constantly preparing stuff and turning over new galleries to present more history. My greatest respect goes to those who come in, in their free time, to help with their own expertise in organising everything the museum has. They are the true heroes; using knowledge they gained from working in the industries now considered bygone and helping us to understand it today. Without it, TWAM would be useless, since there would be no one to teach the next generation all that they consider important. Without that, there would be no History.

I think that I will pursue a career in history; I may not know how far I wish to be involved, whether it is purely academically for my own good, or as a teacher working in a school.

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