The Museum of London is to axe its dedicated oral history posts

MoL axes oral history and community teams

Geraldine Kendall, 25.09.2013
Museum makes 17 redundancies as it cuts costs by £1m
The Museum of London (MoL) has confirmed that it will make 17 posts redundant in order to address a deficit to its operating budget.

The museum needs to reduce its budget by £1m before April 2014 and said that shrinking its workforce was the only realistic way to cut year-on-year fixed costs.

The redundancies will hit a range of functions and levels across the organisation. The museum said it plans to axe all of its dedicated oral historian posts and focus on “digital collecting”.

MoL will also cut its specialist community collaboration team and plans to embed community work throughout the organisation rather than in a specific department.

A spokesman from MoL said: “Our approach to community collaboration and inclusion, and to collecting oral history is changing.

"Community work will be embedded in how we work across the organisation rather than a delivered through a specialist team. A new approach to community work will be developed within the context of our strategic plan and audience development strategy.

“With regards to oral history, due to pressures on its resources the museum has decided at this point to focus on digital collecting and move away from direct life stories recording. Therefore the delivery of the digitised oral history collection will be added to the responsibilities of the digital curator.”

Five-year strategy

The spokesman said the staff cuts had been made in line with the restructure outlined in the museum’s recently-published five-year strategy.

According to the spokesman, the plan’s key objectives are: "Reach more people; become better known; engage every school child; stretch thinking; and stand on our own two feet."

He added: “From April 2014 the Museum of London will be organised into four groupings, roughly along the following lines: content, assets, enterprise and transformation, with supporting fundraising and communication teams.”

In a consultation into the redundancies this summer, MoL outlined details of a radical shift in the way the museum operates, with a focus on greater flexibility, cross-departmental working and diversifying the skills of existing staff at every level.

Government cuts mean the museum’s public subsidy is lower this year than it was in 2008/09. MoL made 11 posts redundant in 2011, including three senior curator positions and two colllections care posts.


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Tim Schadla-Hall
MA Member
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
25.09.2013, 17:56
this is weird- I thought the MoL had recently been praised for its community work ? so why were these posts got rid of those posts especially as it is still top heavy in management structure?
07.10.2013, 12:00
I agree that community engagement should be viewed as part of the work of museums but I'm not convinced by the idea of 'embedding' this work as = cutting the community posts; my own included. I was minimally consulted on my work or how it would be 'embedded'. In the end, the vast majority was dropped altogether and what was left was given to administrative staff with no training, experience or support, even in mental health, which I found scary. [Deleted by moderator]. All very worrying and I'm glad to be out of it.

The change of government and recession has meant most of new Labour's community posts have gone or are going; staff from diverse backgrounds with them. But rather than engaging with what was learned, there is a desire to 'embed' community by wiping the slate clean!

The community posts contributed ideas, perspectives and new ways of working; the best establishing relationships with robust and self determining communities as equals and as partners, leading change and creating new historical narratives. A lot of mistakes and silliness happened along the way but more good things happened. Certainly preferable to recent attempts that come across as 'do gooding' e.g. teaching prisoners and homeless people to sew or make furniture (presumably so they can make superior cardboard cities!!)

But why has 'community' come to mean poor, needy and deviant? What does this say about people working in museums who perceive 'community' in this way; and how can individual visitors defined by this term be their authentic selves or respond positively with museums on such terms!! Instead of representing (and it is all about the representation in images for the web and annual review) 'poor, needy, deviants' being kept busy and quietly compliant by inference, making stuff, why not represent and involve individuals recognised in their communities as leaders, thinkers, creators, personalities, 'movers and shakers' in symposia, in debate, in collections research, interpretation and co-curation?

For community to be 'embedded' in museums, the sector needs to refer to the past work of community posts, where leadership, uncomfortable questions and ideas made a real contribution.
06.10.2013, 23:07
I have a real fear when institutions talk about embedding this work without any clear strategy about how this is done. This work needs real skill that is not readily available within the sector. It needs people who can build and sustain relationships over the long term and who see this as a priority and not as an add on. It needs people who can relate to and understand people from different backgrounds who do not presently access or have a voice in museums. It needs people who can advocate for this work at a senior level - and ensure it stays on the agenda. There is so much more to say on this issue - it needs an honest and open discussion and not hiding behind ' we are embedding the work'. How is this happening if you get rid of the expertise you have? How about the relationships that have been built up over time? The Museum of London has always been a beacon of good practice in widening participation. Why is this happening?
Tim Desmond
MA Member
Chief Executive, Galleries & Justice Museum (NCCL)
26.09.2013, 14:20
Four years ago the NCCL set up a model called Education Syndicates to deliver learning across multiple organisations. Education Syndicates predicted cuts to learning services especially in communities and is now developing across the UK.
We need a different approach to learning museums to meet the new reality of reduced funding to museums.
26.09.2013, 10:30
I predict that if the work of one single team will be absorbed into other departments then volunteers will be replied upon even more than they currently are.

Does this mean that the Museum of London will reply upon people to volunteer their stories rather than initiating conversations with people? Or they will only initiate within agreed projects which the MoL have secured funding for (from existing budgets or from grants application) and not any specific oral history projects? Specific projects which may contribute towards creating new and distinctive exhibitions? I can understand the approach because it is nothing new from the charitable sector but not if it prevents new directions from being be followed.
Christos Papagrigoriou
MA Member
MA student, Institute of Education
25.09.2013, 23:29
I am not sure whether it will be able to cope with the multiple communities in London, especially those established around Docklands. People need relevance and cutting down such posts may give rise to huge issues and affect future attendance.