“Communities frame everything that we do,” says Victoria Rogers, the museum manager of the Museum of Cardiff, which she helped set up from scratch 13 years ago. “It was back in 2006 that the museum really started our model of co-creation, before co-creation was kind of a word. The Cardiff public was absolutely integral in deciding what they wanted the museum to be and how they wanted the museum to look.”
In recognition of her achievements over the past 13 years, Rogers was awarded the Radical Changemaker Award at the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives Awards recently.
“I’m thrilled to have won,” she says. “It feels like real recognition of the hard work, tenacity and commitment the team has shown over the past few years in keeping our community-centred ethos at our core, remaining dedicated to supporting our visitors, participants and partners, and being what they want and need, despite the significant challenges we’ve faced as an organisation ourselves.”
Rogers started work on creating the museum in 2006, when Cardiff Council had decided to support a venue exploring the history of the city and its people. “Before we opened in 2011, Cardiff had never had a museum that told its own story, which is quite bizarre for a settlement of any size, but especially for a capital city.”
She remembers the start of the project vividly. “There were just two and a half of us on the museum project, so the number of people contacting us about objects, or to give us their stories, was overwhelming.
We just could not keep up with it,” she says. “The overriding memory I have of those days is just how pleased everybody was that this museum was finally getting off the ground, that finally their heritage was going to be recognised and valued, and that there would be somewhere they could donate items to and a space that people could visit.”
The museum is still a community-driven venue today. Its community gallery, City Showcase, is fully booked with displays lined up three years in advance. “We give anyone putting on a show training and support in how to create an exhibition, how to decide what their key messages are, how to write for different audiences, and how to design a graphic panel in a display,” Rogers says. “And after the show finishes, the group gets the panels. I love seeing how they’re reused.”
Rogers was born and brought up in Wales. She moved from near Cardiff to Wrexham when she was nine, then on to university in Aberystwyth.“I wasn’t one of those people that knew they wanted to work in museums from the age of five,” says Rogers. “All I knew is that I wanted to go to university, and I chose to study history and Welsh history because I enjoyed those subjects.”
It was her mother that suggested working in museums. Rogers rang up Wrexham Museum and asked if she could do some volunteering – and that’s how she got into the sector. Rogers volunteered at Wrexham County Borough Museum, Nottingham City Museums Service and Carmarthenshire Museums Service before she got her first paid job at Coldharbour Mill Museum, in Devon, as access and museums officer.
The woollen mill has been in continuous production since 1797 and is one of the best-preserved Victorian mills.
“It was a very small core team of just five, about 80 volunteers, and there were a lot of challenges,” says Rogers. “I did a lot of their engagement, all of their education and learning, and audience development, and a lot of running around doing whatever was needed – it was an all hands to the pump kind of place. It was the best place to get a really good overview of a museum. I was involved in everything there.”
Her role as assistant keeper of social history for Tyne and Wear Museums was very different, she says. “It was like chalk and cheese – I was going from a tiny, hand-to-mouth independent museum to a multiple-sited museum service, a city, and a diversity of people, diversity of stories, and diversity of a collection that I certainly didn’t have down in Devon.”
Rogers says she found her role quite frustrating initially because, coming from a small museum where she was involved in everything, she suddenly felt as if she didn’t have enough input in certain areas. But she enjoyed her time in Tyne and Wear as she got to do a lot of community work, which she absolutely loved.
She was involved in contemporary collecting and cultural diversity while she was at Tyne and Wear Museums – her inaugural exhibition there was called Destination South Tyneside. “It was the first time that they’d looked at their migration stories. And you can see the legacy of that show in Destination Tyneside at the Discovery Museum.”
Roots to Cardiff was Rogers’ first exhibition with the Cardiff Museum project, back in 2006, which also drew on a theme of migration. Rogers says the focus on refugees and asylum seekers is still central to the Museum of Cardiff’s outreach programme.
“The Museums Association has used us as a case study a number of times,” she says. “We lead Fusion in Cardiff, which is a Welsh Government programme about using culture, heritage and the arts to tackle big social issues, such as poverty, and creating opportunities.”
The Museum of Cardiff also does some great contemporary collecting work. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum recently announced that it had acquired Extinction Rebellion climate change protest material. But the Museum of Cardiff had already been doing this for some time.
“Contemporary collecting has always been so inbuilt into our collecting – that’s just what we do,” says Rogers. “We’ve been collecting people’s stories and objects from the Extinction Rebellion protests in Cardiff – paper ephemera they’d printed, which is bilingual and visually quite nice. We also collected handmade banners by a group of young people who’d travelled to the city to protest with them.
“It was a no brainer for us. I didn’t see it as particularly innovative. It’s just about us making sure that we’re representing the issues that the Cardiff community feels strongly about.”
Despite all the innovative work Rogers has led during her time at the Museum of Cardiff, she was surprised when she won the Radical Changemaker Award. But it was no surprise to many in the sector though – after all, she’s met several challenges over the years, such as a 50% budget cut in one year, and the museum now has ongoing difficulties with lack of temporary exhibition space.
What keeps her fired up? “It’s the drive to keep delivering on our commitments in the face of significant challenges,” says Rogers. “We’re only eight years old, and we are only half the museum we should be. There is so much more to do and so many more communities to work with.”
Victoria Rogers at a glance
Victoria Rogers has been the manager of the Museum of Cardiff since 2013. She joined the organisation in 2006 as exhibitions officer. Rogers has a BA in history and Welsh history from the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, and an MA in heritage studies.
She was appointed access and museums officer for Coldharbour Mill Museum in 1999, and was the assistant keeper of social history at Tyne and Wear Museums from 2003 to 2006. She is president of the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and recently received the Museums Association’s Radical Changemaker Award.
Museum of Cardiff at a glance
The museum opened in 2011 up as the Cardiff Story Museum. It changed its name to the Museum of Cardiff this year, following a public consultation.The museum is housed in the city’s old library, which opened in 1882 as Cardiff’s first purpose-built library. It remained a library until the 1980s.
The Museum of Cardiff’s staff comprise of three full-time equivalents, with 10 front-of-house workers. Two posts are grant funded. One leads Fusion, a scheme that helps tackle poverty with culture, funded by the Welsh Government. The other role is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund (administered by the Museums Association) to help diversify the museum’s collection.
The collection has about 8,000 items and is regularly added to. A recent acquisition is ephemera from the Extinction Rebellion Cardiff protest. The museum also collected people’s stories who attended the event.
The museum is working to include more stories in its displays, including about Cardiff City Football Club. The entire museum is interpreted in Welsh and English. The organisation’s core funding comes from Cardiff Council. The museum welcomes about 130,000 visitors a year.