The Open Store is primarily a mechanism to make stored collections accessible to our visitors, give people an idea of what ‘behind the scenes’ looks like and get collections on display which illustrate future developments at the museum and possibly encourage people to donate items for these developments. The open store is also a space where community heritage groups such as the North East Police History Society and Durham Amateur Football Trust to display some of their unique collections to a broad audience.
The Open Stores have been operating for about three years now – we are gradually developing more aisles to be opened as only one aisle can be opened at any one time. Objects are placed on the shelves for visual effect as well as storage purposes and we have become more adventurous in our methods of display and now have a choice of two aisles that can be opened. We aim to be able to open up another store to visitors in the next couple of years.
About 70% of our collection is currently on display in the museum so it is a relatively small amount that is in storage. As the museum develops over the next few years we aim that the percentage of our collections in storage is reduced further.
About 10% of the stored collections are accessible to the public through the open stores but we also take organised groups in to other parts of the store and take objects from the stores out to schools and community settings as part of our outreach programmes. Our photographic archive and some parts of the collection are also accessible online although we will be improving digital access to collections in the coming years.
The Open Stores have been a really positive development for us – many people have commented that it’s great to see what it’s like behind the scenes and get an idea of how the museum works. Accessing objects in the open store when the museum is open can be tricky as it often involves using a platform lift – we’ve generally just roped off an aisle to keep visitors at a safe distance so they can see what’s happening.
The collections are stored on shelves and those at a lower level have a perspex screen in front of them. Some of the objects are on open display such as a three-person hairdressers’ chair with drying helmets which visitors love sitting in as it makes a great photo opportunity. We are an open air museum so our philosophy is one of open display so many of these objects will be going in to period spaces to help create an immersive environment for visitors to explore.
Having the Open Store enables us to share with visitors some unusual and eclectic parts of the collection that we aren’t currently able to show in context within a period setting so for example we have a shelf which houses some of our collections linked to WW1 and another very popular shelf which has toys and games from the 1950s through to the 1990s! The open store has proven a great way to gather stories from visitors of all ages prompted by a particular object in the store. There is a telephone in the open store which links to the Collections Team so any visitor wishing to ask a question or donate an object can get in touch directly when they’re in the museum.
Remaking Beamish will enable us to get a large proportion of our collections currently in store in to use within the museum. We are still collecting objects for the project for both the 1950s and 1820s developments and since 2013 approximately 24,000 everyday objects from large furniture items to electrical goods have been donated to the museum. It is a huge task to keep on top of the cataloguing of incoming objects but the team are doing a great job helped by a small army of volunteers. We have also had donations of objects from the 1960s onwards some of which we have collected as who knows what the future might bring.
The three-person hairdressers’ chair with drying helmets which is popular for visitor snaps