Friday 28 June 2013

Experience Barnsley: the Opening of Barnsley's New Museum and Archives

Before we go any further I want to say that I am behind the idea and aims of Experience Barnsley wholeheartedly.  I am also a regular user of Barnsley Archives and Local Studies and am looking forward to visiting them regularly in their new home.

Four leaflets arranged in a fan, Experience Barnsley, Barnsley Museums Summer Events 2013, Barnsley Museums and Archives and Local Studies.
A selection of informative leaflets available from Barnsley Museums
However this is my blog and the views I express are my own opinion.  I am not employed by Barnsley Council, although I sometimes volunteer at the Archives I receive no remuneration for mentioning them in my blog posts.

One final thing ... I am disabled.  I have an assortment of conditions that lead me to be very tired most of the time, my ability to concentrate on work, especially close written work, is limited to about three hours a day at home.  Add a journey before and after that, say a commute to work or an expedition to an Archives and you can cut down the time I'm actually fully functioning to two hours or less.  Some days I am very, very ill indeed and cannot leave the house, and on days before and after a 'big adventure' I usually spend the whole day lying on or even in bed building up some energy beforehand and then recovering afterwards. 

OK - that said I have been really looking forward to the Archives reopening.  I had a ticker on my blog page counting down and I've been posting links on Twitter, Facebook and here to any news stories I've found.  Strangely, yesterday morning I went completely the other way ... I think it was like waiting for Christmas when you are a child, wondering and anticipating the presents you will get and then at the last minute dreading that everyone (including Santa) has forgotten you and there will be nothing there when you go down to the living room on Christmas Day morning.  I spent the morning listening to both Dearne FM and BBC Radio Sheffield catching news announcements and pieces on Experience Barnsley from 8am.  I hadn't meant to get up that early, part of my plan for lasting out the afternoon involved a 10am alarm, however some inconsiderate soul had decided to strim the grass in our street at 7:30am and it was very, very loud.  By the time I left the house to get on a bus to town I had become very, very upset at the thought that my anticipation might not have been worthwhile and disappointed that I hadn't been able to play a bigger part in the preparation - however I'm glad to say that despite the last minute rush it seems to have gone very well.

We, the OH and I, had walked up to the Town Hall to have a peep at how it was all going a couple of times in the week.
A view uphill towards the library showing many,many high viz clad men working hard with diggers and wheelbarrows to get the gardens ready.
The Town Hall Gardens on Saturday before the opening

This is what it looked like on Saturday 22 June at about 12 noon.  We counted at least 40 men in high viz working hard with diggers, wheelbarrows and a huge tarmac laying machine to get everything ready for Thursday.
Taken from across the road, the picture shows several vans, men planting small bushes and watering the plants in.
The Town Hall Gardens on Tuesday before the opening

By Tuesday the paving seemed to be finished, all the soil was in place and the men were planting small shrubs along the edges of the pathways.  Note that bench in the foreground across the road from the gardens ... it features in my plan for Thursday.

The completed Gardens, sculpture to the left, Barnsley Live gazebos being set up to the right and an old time carousel at the top.
The Town Hall Gardens on Thursday from the bench!
At 12:30pm on Thursday I took up my position on the bench previously spotted and waited to see what was happening. 

I'm sorry but as you may have gathered I don't have any pictures of the inside of the museum as it was being built or set up ... someone else will have to document that ... as I didn't donate anything, am not on the Steering Group or similar and I don't work for the Council I wasn't allowed a preview.  There are pictures of the exhibits in the various news reports I linked to in my last blog about the museum.

I had walked up from the bus station in Barnsley and circled the site slowly taking some pictures from all angles.  The area of the Gardens was cordoned off with pedestrian barriers and dotted with security guards.  The big sculpture, Crossing (Vertical) by Nigel Hall, has been climbed at least once since its installation and it seemed to have one security guard permanently watching it all afternoon.

At around 1pm school children began to arrive - some had instruments, and did indeed play later - I don't know who they were or where they were from, sorry, so I can't give them a name check.  It sounded very nice.  Various crocodiles of school children approached regularly after that ... I watched some having their photos taken on the Town Hall steps before they went in through the front door.

Barnsley Town Hall, built in the 1930s of white Portland Stone it has a central clock tower and four story high wings.  In front is the War memorial, a cenotaph like sculpure in sandstone with a bronze of a WW1 Tommy resting on his rifle with bowed head.
Barnsley Town Hall and War Memorial from my bench
As you can see from the photo above it was getting a bit dull, in fact it did start to rain about then.  I had my trusty hat (see my profile picture) and a waterproof jacket so just huddled down to wait. 

You can see the themed 'Experience Barnsley' planting in front of the Town Hall in the picture above and the War Memorial, which commemorates men lost in both World Wars, and forms the centre of Barnsley Remembrance services every November.  Experience Barnsley is on the ground floor, that's the row of windows level with the door in the middle at the front - however the entrance to the museum is to the left off the new Town Hall Gardens.  It used to be the door you went through to get to the Register Office, for people who know Barnsley.  The museum takes up the whole of the back of the Town Hall on that floor.  The Archives is on the same floor at the front and right hand side of the building, so the windows behind the foot of the War Memorial are part of that area.

A plan of the three levels of the Town Hall open to the public.
3D plan of the areas in Barnsley Town Hall
The plan shown above is from the centre of the leaflet about the Archives and Local Studies which I picked up in the Town Hall reception yesterday.  It is oriented the same as my photo, the Archives is indicated by the red arrowed box on the right.  I can't find an online version as yet (the Council's Museums and Galleries information page hasn't been updated since last year), but if I do I'll post a link to it here.

Around about 1:40pm the security guards opened up the barriers and I was able to approach the Barnsley Live black and white gazebos on the right of the Gardens.  I had met up with a couple of ladies from the Cudworth History Group and together we asked a guard where we should stand - he replied that we were a bit early and suggested we nip off and have a cup of tea.  FW and MG had already had lots of tea and said they were staying put!  I'd been there over an hour at that point and wasn't missing anything.  All the guard could suggest is that we sheltered under one of the gazebos, it was still raining, and keep the roadway clear.  People began to gather, mostly older, retired people, and some disabled people.  The school children I'd seen going in earlier where brought out and lined up ready for the ribbon cutting.  There was a last minute influx of smartly dressed people from the offices around about, mostly council workers and people on late lunch breaks I think.

A group of people, mostly facing left stood on a slope, a black and white gazebo labelled Barnsley Live and a woman struggling with a large cardboard box.
Safety scissors being handed out to the crowd
A woman came around handing out little blue plastic safety scissors.  The idea was that Experience Barnsley would be 'opened' by the whole town by everyone in the crowd cutting a part of the ribbon.

Two big reels of red ribbon with the Barnsley Town Hall logo and the words Experience Barnsley
The ribbon - there's quite a lot! (from Twitter I think)
Word had gone around, and the term used in the press cuttings was 'swathed', that the ribbon would be wrapped around the Town Hall ... maybe it was the rain, or the small number of people who had turned up, or maybe they decided it was just impossible to organise but instead a man reeled out a snaky path of ribbon amongst the crowd in the Gardens. 
People lined up down the side of the Town Hall under the gazebos holding the ribbon with their blue scissors poised
Getting ready to cut the ribbon outside Barnsley Town Hall
There was a BBC TV crew at the top of what used to be 'Lancaster Gate' (it used to be a car park) and the announcements were made by Simon Hirst, a Barnsley born DJ.  At the countdown's end everyone cut their section of the ribbon.

The other side of the ribbon loop, the ribbon has now been cut and people are holding drooping sections of it severed from each other.
Cutting the ribbon - the aftermath
The bits of ribbon and the scissors quickly vanished from view, bundled into peoples' bags and pockets I suppose.  The security guards advised us that the children would be going inside first and asked us to form an orderly queue against the wall of the Town Hall.

It wasn't long before I was going up the steps into the building and I asked if I could just go straight around to the Archives.  No problem, and I was given clear directions by one of the guides.  Now I don't want to grumble, but I am going to .... the front doors were open all this time ... bear in mind that I hadn't been allowed to see the Archives during their set up and I didn't know how the doors were to be arranged but I had expected some kind of wall or barrier (or at least a security guard to negotiate) between the front doors and the Archives.  As I walked around within the building it was apparent there was nothing of the sort - and I could have got straight into the Archives without waiting in the queue by using the front doors of the Town Hall.  Hrrrumph!

A group of people (named in caption) in the reception area of the Archives.  Soft chairs to the right and pictures on the walls.
Archives Staff, Michael, Mark, Gill, David, Joan and Paul (photo from Twitter)
It was great to walk into the new Archive department.  I had been squinting through the windows for months watching the floor cleaned and bookshelves being fitted.  The OH got a preview a couple of weeks ago as his firm does Council work and he had to go in to reassemble a big map table for them.  But this was the first time I had seen the new facilities.  I should note that it is being referred to as a 'Discovery Centre' in the Experience Barnsley publicity material.

The staff were all there; the picture above appeared on Twitter a couple of days ago and I have blatantly 'stolen' it.  It shows them standing in the new reception area, which will be open seven days a week, along with the rest of the museum.  The regular opening times will be 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, with the reception open so you can 'find out more about our collections and services' on Sundays. 

I met up with some friends inside, and found a seat.  Bear in mind that I'd been standing, well, leaning on a wall, outside since 1:40pm when they opened the barriers and it was now about 2:30pm.  I was shattered. 

I'll post some pictures of the new department another time - it was too full of people milling around yesterday to get good shots.  Similarly I will visit the museum, maybe with the OH at the weekend and take some pictures there.  John Tanner has invited me for a tour around - to explain how it will work and what they have tried to do to bring Barnsley's history to its people.  I am looking forward to that and I will no doubt share it with you all in another blog post.

One last photo snapped on my way home ...

Angled shot of the displayed photos at the foot of the sculpture outside the Town Hall
Timeline display of photos around the foot of the sculpture
The yellow sign at the foot of sculpture reads, 'Danger Do Not Climb'!  The photo collection is nice though, and waterproof, so I guess they are staying for a while.  Barnsley through the ages, very thought provoking.

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