Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Lance Alexander, Heritage Operations Manager for St.Edmundsbury Borough Council.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
I manage a dedicated team that preserves the integrity and authenticity of the museum collections. This is through how we display and interpret the collections and deliver events. Every day is different! From planning future events, engaging with schools to working with public and the local council officers. Currently we have been looking back through the archives to find some new angles on how we can keep heritage relevant in the modern age for both academics and tourists.
What’s great about your job?
The variety. There are so many opportunities with a large collection. It allows a sense of time travelling! Every item has a story to tell. We strive to keep ‘fresh’ so that brings new challenges and the desire to learn more.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
With looking after a collection and the general public it is just ensuring that the sites are managed safely, the items are cared for and that the public continue to support the heritage service. It’s not that I don’t like this – but managing visitor expectation is a challenge.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Probably the 12 years that I was the Education Officer for the Anglo-Saxon Settlement at West Stow. Every school visit was different, the variety of questions from children made it such an enjoyable time. Also working for the BBC as a freelance history artist for the CBBC Anglo-Saxons and Vikings department was a lot of fun and something I’ll never forget.
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I started out after getting my A Levels in a design company, mainly creative advertising. An opportunity came along to build Anglo-Saxon structures and be involved in experimental Archaeology. I jumped at the chance. What I thought might have been a year long career deviation into museums and heritage turned out to be 24 years.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
For me, the biggest challenge was accepting the role of Heritage Manager. I am a team player and I like to be part of a decision sharing process, not leading. It also meant taking myself away from what I have said was the career highlight of being an Education Officer. Taking the role meant I could be in a position to protect what I believed in for the service and continue managing in a way that encouraged a shared ownership of the project for staff, volunteers and the public to see the service thrive for the future.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
The challenge is that funding is tighter in this sector of work, and competing with other tourist attractions means that the offer really has to be as best as it can be to ensure visitors commit their time and money with you. Staying relevant to the social climate and believing in the product or outcomes you are providing is essential. As I mentioned, the visitors expectation levels in the modern age is much higher.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
One way in is volunteering so you get to find out more about what museums and the leisure and culture sector needs. Opportunities once you are already on board can lead to a career. Be true to yourself and hold onto what makes you passionate, don’t allow the mundane to become the norm!
How do you think museums can involve young people in heritage?
Engagement with the younger generation means that the past and present has its guardians in the future. Young people can have an impact on planning how we interpret the themes to make them modern and relevant, finding out what makes them excited. This can be done through school visits, outreach and open days. All these ways are currently in progress. The new revamped galleries at West Stow had elements designed based on young people feedback and participation in design.