Calderdale Industrial Museum: Governance

Calderdale Industrial Museum was re-opened in 2017 after a gap of more than 15 years, thanks to the campaigning work of a group of volunteers. When the site in the centre of Halifax was under threat of development, they persuaded Calderdale Council to hand control of the building and its collection of steam engines, looms, machine tools and other industrial artefacts to them. The museum presents a fascinating picture of the pivotal role played by Halifax in the Industrial Revolution.

But with the battle won, the group were left with the next, even more complex challenge: how to run a museum in the absence of paid staff and with precious little collections, fundraising, education or other museum expertise among the volunteers.

“We had achieved our objective to prevent the council knocking the building down,” says Tim Kirker, chair of Calderdale Industrial Museum Association. “Now we needed to change from being a protest and campaigning organisation to being one that runs something, a completely different set of skills. We weren’t confident in how we were going to do that. Although our members have a wide range of skills and experience, we are not particularly skilled in running museums and have only one or two ex-museum professionals involved as volunteers.”

Under the Hallmarks Prospering Boards programme, the group has been able to work with a consultant to review their governance, help them organise more effectively as a body, identify their skills gaps and refine their vision for the organisation.

“Prospering Boards has helped us examine how we organise ourselves, how the board functions and what job roles are required to take us forward,” says Tim. “We’ve been very successful in recruiting around 200 members but we’re not very good at managing those people to take on the roles that need to be done. It’s relatively easy to recruit volunteers but few volunteers want to manage other volunteers.

“Unlike bigger, established museums, there isn’t an existing body laying down the rules. It’s a blank sheet of paper which is exciting but it’s also difficult to know where to start, so Prospering Boards has been instrumental in getting us moving.”

After sitting in on board meetings and meeting members and volunteers, the consultant has drafted descriptors for officer and trustee roles, hoping to fill skills gaps in education, fundraising, marketing and collections management, and has written a report on how the governance of the organisation needs to be strengthened. A paid manager role is also being defined.

The consultant has supported Tim who took on the original role of chair with no background in museum management or governance.

“It has been very helpful to get an objective view of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and it is helping the wider membership begin to understand the changed position we’re in,” Tim says.

“We need a clearer vision of how the museum will be run and what its aims are for visitors – and we’re also being moved down that road because we are seeking accreditation – but we need it, too, to harness people’s enthusiasm in the right way. We need people to recognise, for example, that the displays here are not toys or even production machines any more but historic artefacts and you can’t go around cranking them up without having a conservation plan in place. When this process is completed in the New Year, we should be in a position to introduce structures and procedures much better suited to the challenges we face.”