June 10, 2019, by Jackie Thompson
My Reflection on the Experience Heritage module
By Megan Atwell, BA (Hons) Music, student blogger
A feeling many students in the arts and humanities are familiar with, is the blend of excitement and fear that accompanies any thoughts about the future. As a music student, I am acutely aware of this; there is no clear career path laid out for me and viable options can feel limited. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, and fortunately, the UoN careers team help arts and humanities students prepare for life after university. One such initiative is the Nottingham Advantage Award, allowing you to take additional credits outside your degree particularly focused on career development and work experience. I decided to get involved by taking the ‘Experience Heritage’ module.
Given that it is notoriously difficult to get a job in the heritage sector without experience, this module is a great way to get your foot in the door before you graduate. You will gain insight into what working in the heritage sector looks like and it can help you determine whether it’s the place for you. It was primarily curiosity that drew me to apply for this module, but I have always been interested in history and having just completed a module on art in the baroque era (which I loved!), I was keen to explore what a career in arts and heritage could mean for me.
Experience Heritage requires you to complete a 35-hour work placement at a heritage organisation. I was placed at Culture Syndicates, an arts and heritage consultancy, made up of a small team who provide specialist advice for heritage and cultural organisations in Nottinghamshire. Throughout my placement, I was consistently amazed by the array of diverse projects that CS is involved with – it really helped me grasp the breadth of this sector. Additionally, CS are passionate about training and employability. They aim to support a sustainable heritage sector through encouraging paid work experience. Consequently, CS offer various traineeship programmes that provide vital skills and experience for sector entrants.
My placement was supervised by Natasha (Projects Officer at CS), and I’m grateful that during my placement Natasha was truly supportive and invested in my development. During our first meeting she made it clear that my placement was an opportunity for me to gain new skills and she was happy to facilitate my aspirations as far as possible. This encouraged me to take the initiative (something I often struggle with), and therefore I grew in confidence and learnt to express my thoughts openly.
I chose to get involved with two projects; ‘Lifelines’ and an evaluation for Charnwood Museum. Lifelines was a long-term collaboration with a local amateur history group researching World War One, and the Charnwood project consisted of data collection and evaluation. I found it helpful to get involved in contrasting projects as it allowed for greater exposure and helped me determine what I did and didn’t enjoy.
Project One: Lifelines
Lifelines was both fun and educational. The group was made up of different ages which brought an interesting dynamic, especially since I am usually surrounded by students my own age. Culture Syndicates facilitated public workshops for this group in Nottingham Archives and it emphasised the importance of community engagement within the heritage sector. It was interesting to witness the interactions between CS staff and members of Lifelines – both friendly and professional. I also saw first-hand how important clear communication is when dealing with clients, especially when working under strict time restraints. I learnt that it is better to confront issues rather than ignore them, which would inevitably cause future problems.
Project Two: Charnwood Evaluation
A common thread throughout the heritage sector is the focus on evaluation. It is even a mandatory requirement for all projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Consequently, it was incredibly beneficial for me to be involved in the process. The main aim for this project was to establish Charnwood Museum’s audience and how it could be expanded. To collect this data, we conducted surveys both inside the museum and in the centre of Loughborough.
I discovered that surveying is a unique experience which poses a variety of challenges. It is vital that your survey is of a good quality – clear, concise and not too long. The location, weather and time of day can also hugely affect your success; a large data sample is dependent upon large footfall and this can be unpredictable. I found approaching members of the public on the street quite daunting at first, but ultimately it was a rewarding experience, especially engaging with such a broad range of people.
Overall, my placement was interesting, enjoyable and it exposed me to many aspects of the heritage sector that I was unfamiliar with. As well as building upon my communication, marketing and research skills, I have been deeply inspired by the team at Culture Syndicates and my exploration into heritage is much more informed.
If you’re inspired by Megan’s experience and would like to know more about the other modules available through the Nottingham Advantage Award, visit our website.