Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
My name is Sarah Pearson, and I work at Newcastle Castle as a Front of House Assistant.
What does your job involve?
Working front of House is a really varied job. You do the standard things like giving people tickets, directions and maps, but you also get the chance to engage people with the history of the site, and dress up in period costume. We dress up in medieval era, and our team manager often gets very into character as a gong farmer and carries around a bucket of fake poo!
What’s great about your job?
I love the people. You meet all sorts of people at Newcastle Castle, particularly international visitors as we’re located near the airport and the port. Because our site is a very expansive castle, unfortunately that means not everyone can explore its full depth so I’ve often had visitors sit with me whilst their family explore. This is when I hear the best stories.
One of my favourites was told to me by an older gentleman about the various escapades he got up to while doing his National Service in the 1950s. Memories and stories make my job special every day. Particularly if the visitors are doing long-distance travel, then it’s nice for them to break up their journey with new conversations and new places to explore.
What bits do you find challenging?
Sometimes it can be challenging working with the international visitors because you don’t often speak the same language. Today I had to butcher my A-Level French to help a couple navigate the castle! But it’s not something I don’t like, it’s just something that’s challenging. I’m one of those really annoying people who loves their job!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That would probably be my previous job actually - a paid internship at Sewerby Hall in East Yorkshire. The internship was both education and curatorial in discipline, so I did everything from checking relative humidity and temperature to helping set up exhibitions and delivering school activities. My favourite part was writing and piloting a murder mystery event with staff and volunteers then actually running the activity with another group of volunteers from a different museum.
Have you always worked in this sector?
Yes - I was lucky enough to find museums really early on. I started out as a volunteer Young Curator at the Oriental Museum in Durham as part of the Cultural Olympiad which was a scheme attached to the 2012 Olympics. I then I did my EPQ at school on museums. So I’ve been in the museums and heritage industry since age 16.
As I knew what I wanted to do when looking at degrees too, because my degree is a History, Museums and Heritage degree which I completed at the University of Central Lancashire. A specific rather than generic history degree helped me focus on my route into museums.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry?
Certainly one of the biggest changes has been the push for different routes into this sector. Traditionally, the route was to complete a degree, then a masters, before working in a heritage job. However now there are internships, apprenticeships and traineeships which are all looking to broaden the route which people can take into this sector which can only be a positive thing. This means the heritage industry is seeing a diversification of staffing, which is imperative in order to widen audiences.
What’s your advice to young people?
Look for different opportunities. Find ways to get a taste of the sector and different roles in the sector, be that through work placement, volunteering or a summer job, before you fully commit yourself. In the past, there has been an emphasis on volunteering as the one way to get started in heritage, but not everyone can volunteer and that’s ok.
You don’t have to volunteer to work in heritage. Working in a supermarket can prepare you for working in a museum: customer service provides skills needed for Front of House and stock control is a collections role. Really anything can be turned into experience for museums.
You’re involved in the North East Emerging Museums Professionals. What’s this group about?
We are part of a network of emerging museums professional groups across Scotland, England and Wales. Essentially it’s a support network because as more people get more interested in working in heritage, it gets more competitive. So the group supports members throughout the application process and through into their role by providing ideas and resources. For example, if you’re working on a project and need to source a particular material, often someone else in the industry will have faced that problem too and can recommend a supplier.
Facebook and Twitter are the main platforms we use in the group. We also have a Volunteer Makers page, utilising the platform which specialises in micro-volunteering so people can give just a few minutes or an hour of their time. We ask people to review museums and heritage sites for their feedback or come along to one of our socials.
You can find your local EMP group at https://ukemp.com/
How have you benefited from this group?
It’s so lovely to have people of roughly the same point in their career as you, as well as being in the same sector. We don’t talk exclusively about museums and often we’ll ban work-related talk. By coincidence I met someone on an airplane trip to a conference in Belfast who I knew through the group, so it really does expand your horizons and ensure support.