Working life | Becca Clayton, Museum Futures trainee

‘There has been a mad rush to produce as much content as possible’
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Becca Clayton is undertaking a Museum Futures placement at Tyne and Wear Archive and Museums
Becca Clayton is undertaking a Museum Futures placement at Tyne and Wear Archive and Museums

Applications are currently open for the British Museum’s Museum Futures training programme. The lottery-funded diploma programme offers paid digital skills traineeships to young people aged 18-24 with no previous museum experience. The placements are hosted by a range of museums across the UK.

Museums Journal spoke to one of this year’s trainees, Becca Clayton, about how Covid upended her traineeship and is changing the way the sector thinks about digital.  

What made you apply to be a Museum Futures trainee?

Firstly, at the time I found the job advert I was unemployed, lacking in experience and in my overdraft. I was in a position where I could not afford to work for free. The traineeship was a paid, on-the-job training position and specifically tailored towards those who don’t hold previous experience in the cultural heritage industry.

Secondly, I loved that the focus of the Museum Futures programme was to aid self-development, to give trainees job-specific skills and experience in the cultural heritage industry. By focusing on various aspects of digital, it provides trainees with a foundation to be qualified in an underdeveloped and growing aspect of the sector.

And lastly, at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, the role was around digital engagement and storytelling. As a recent English Literature graduate, that’s definitely my cup of tea. I wanted the opportunity to learn how to create content in a variety of formats and be involved in all stages of production, whilst uncovering some cool new stories from local history.

What kind of work were you undertaking pre-Covid?

I had only started the role in January 2020, so I was still trying to find my feet. I was learning how to get to grips working with collections (there was a lot more asbestos involved than I expected), becoming acquainted with my colleagues and the different roles there are across the organisation, and I was learning how to function on a full-time job.

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My main project was to research into the life of an individual named Robert Coulthard in the aim of telling the personal story of a local LGBTQ+ individual from history and bring to light an underrepresented aspect of local social history. It was very much in the planning and research stages – I was uncovering the story, context, potential collaborators, and trying to understand who our audience would be.

What was the day-to-day impact of lockdown on your traineeship?

Lockdown meant that I couldn’t move to the next stages of production, and that I couldn’t continue my research in the same way. For example, there are missing pieces of information in Coulthard’s story which I can only find the answers to by looking at records that have not yet been digitised and therefore can only be accessed physically.

Another impact has been that it has limited what job-specific skills I can develop, for example I could not undertake the practical training in filmmaking that was planned to take place in March. Any training I did had to be done remotely, which meant I also had to widen my sources of learning beyond the organisation. This has actually had a positive impact on my self-development by making me more aware of the different digital resources and courses out there.

The pandemic is transforming how museums think about their digital offering. How has it changed your approach?

The pandemic has made me more self-aware and critical in my approach. For a lot of organisations in the heritage sector, there has been a mad rush to produce as much content as possible to engage audiences digitally over lockdown.

Yet creating a space for engagement beyond the museum for those can’t visit it physically is a long-term goal, and in a lot of cases this has unfortunately only been made a priority recently.

I am now (hopefully!) more aware of the different kinds of engagement and different audience requirements and I strive to have a digital offering that is story-led and audience-led, as opposed to digital-led.

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What do you think are the digital skills that museums will need for the future?

For me, I think it’s important that:

  • Digital literacy is embedded across the workforce
  • There is an awareness of digital as a space in its own right and of the different audiences that engage with it
  • There is movement across the sector to develop long-term digital strategies to build a relationship with audiences.

Applications for a placement on the Museum Futures 2021 programme close on 2 November

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