About this time last year, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery was successful in a bid to the Arts Council England Designation Development Fund, securing funding of £72,500 to catalogue and display its nationally significant geology collections. The Designation Development Fund provides funding for projects which ensures long-term care of Designated collections and maximises their public value.
In early March 2020, just days before the museum closed and the country sank into lockdown due to Covid-19, I contributed a summary of the project to the Geological Curators’ Group blog (you can read it here). It really does show how quickly everything changed – at the time of writing the original blog, we were expecting the project to kick off in June 2020, beginning with the recruitment of an Assistant Curator to carry out the documentation of geological specimens bequeathed to the museum by Ted Watkin. This collection, comprised of about 2,000 fossils mostly originating from around Staffordshire, is to form the basis of the project and the new displays, highlighting the history and importance of the Carboniferous coal fields under Stoke-on-Trent.
Having been notified of our bid’s success in November 2019, we set about putting our project plans into motion, beginning the recruitment process for our new Assistant Curator. We expect various stages of recruitment to go slowly, but fortunately getting the post set up went more quickly than we’d hoped. We were able to advertise the vacancy earlier than originally planned, allowing for a two-month advertising window (we weren’t able to use this time to simply get someone in post earlier, as the project wasn’t eligible to begin until May 2020).
But then of course, 2020 happened. The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery was closed to the public from Mid-March, and staff were to work from home shortly after. Due to a combination of Covid and capital development works at the museum, curatorial staff weren’t able to regularly attend the museum until September. Fortunately, we were able to continue some digital collections work remotely in the meantime, including the shortlisting of applications for the position of Assistant Curator. Interviews weren’t possible until the museum reopened to the public at the end of September, but fortunately we were just able to complete the recruitment process before the second lockdown in November forced our doors closed again.
Poor Olivia Beavers, the newest addition to our Collections Team, only got three days in the museum before we closed again and returned to working from home. Fortunately, she’s been able to hit the ground running – Olivia has been one of our valued collections volunteers for over three years. The museum remains closed while Stoke-on-Trent is in Tier 3, however Olivia’s existing experience with our geological collections means she’s been able to begin working with the digital collection records remotely during lockdown with minimal guidance and I’m sure we’ll have little trouble making up for lost ground when we’re ready to reopen and have access to the collections again.