Gilbert White’s House and the Oates Collections: Purpose


Gilbert White’s House and the Oates Collections have been supported by the AIM Prospering Boards programme to help them refine the existing vision for the site and devise a more streamlined strategy, based on a clear organisational purpose.

Trustees, staff and volunteers came together at a vision day to determine the next steps needed to develop their use of the collection, house and other assets to widen understanding of nature and the natural world.

“The day was about reflecting on where we want to be and how we can get there,” says Rosemary Irwin, Chair of Trustees at the museum in Hampshire. “We had a vision document drafted in 2013 which covered all we do but it needed staff, trustee and volunteer affirmation, given that it was drafted some time ago.”

Before the event, attendees were interviewed by a facilitator about their thoughts and ideas for the museum’s future. It produced some themes for a plenary on the day, followed by group discussions on the day under five key headings. A digest of key points from the discussions was compiled which became the basis of the final document and the new strategic priorities.

“The interviews beforehand were useful in identifying the common themes and the facilitator also ran the day,” Rosemary says. “It was very good to have a professional here to guide us through how to do it, to organise the day and what comes out of it. Having an outsider without an axe to grind or an internal agenda is very important and made a lot of difference.”

It was also a rare opportunity for different stakeholders to work together, generating a strong sense of everyone working towards a common goal, even if their contributions are different in type and scale.

“Trustees and staff don’t know each other well because, clearly, they don’t have day-to-day contact,” she says, adding that when new trustees are appointed, they do meet staff and volunteers but it’s not a long conversation. “On the day, each group was composed of a mix of all three, meaning they all heard a range of perspectives, which made a huge difference. Overall, it was an opportunity for people to get to know each other really well and to overturn any preconceptions and it led to a much greater appreciation that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.”

While nature and the natural world have always been the core of the museum, the revised vision document will make the themes more explicit as the core of the museum’s purpose, says Rosemary

“We were happy with the content of the 2013 vision but agreed that the structure was too wordy – it was a statement supported by the mission and ten objectives – and the discussions at the day led us to refine it down and alter the emphasis to reflect our current vision more clearly. We wanted it to be flexible so that it could be reinterpreted as time goes on and to emphasise that the theme of nature is embedded in everything we do.”

It will, for example, reflect aspects such as the museum’s broader educational offer. They have had a field studies centre for schools here since 1978 but adults and families are also a key audience now.

“Had you asked the staff and trustees before what we were about, they would have known that it was the natural world but now the philosophy is enshrined in a document which they have all been part of drafting,” Rosemary adds. “As such, it’s going to be much more of a living expression of our purpose and our values.”