CHARITY: How our museums tell the story of Sheffield
Ever heard of the jungle of exotic animals that lived on Hawley Street?
Or how about Frank Webster, the Sheffield man nearly eaten by a crocodile in India?
These are just some of the remarkable stories celebrated in the city’s extensive collections of art, human history and natural science.
These unique collections are cared for by Museums Sheffield, the charity that runs Weston Park Museum, Millennium Gallery and Graves Gallery.
For chief executive Kim Streets giving the people of Sheffield and visitors to the city the opportunity to discover these wonderful stories and learn more about the city’s rich heritage is a fundamental part of the charity’s work.
She said: “Across our museums and galleries, our role is to care for and safeguard the city’s collections, and to share them with the widest possible audience.
“We work hard to help visitors of all ages connect with the artworks and objects on display, to use them to question and explore the world around them and make sense of contemporary life.”
The diverse collections that Museums Sheffield looks after span millions of years, from one of the best collections of carboniferous fossils in the country, to a jet necklace from the early Bronze Age through to masterpieces from Cezanne, Turner, Picasso and more, as well as a vast repository of objects and information relating to the city’s wildlife, environment and ecology.
Staff at Museums Sheffield are assisted by a team of volunteers who dedicate their time to recording and conserving the collections, as well as supporting the ongoing events and learning programmes.
Adrian Middleton, a retired systems specialist from Greenhill has been helping document Sheffield’s collections for 13 years.
He said: “I’ve helped with many different aspects – from research and photo processing to text writing and cataloguing.
“Each object has a story, and holds a piece of information about our history. The work I do helps to ensure that records about objects are as detailed and accurate as can be – future-proofing the collection and ensuring information is correct for the next generation of curators and visitors.
“I certainly get as much out of volunteering as I contribute. Let’s just say I’m rarely bored!”
Sheffield’s collections provide a basis for a wide range of learning activity, both on site and in the city’s schools and communities. Anita Hamlin, learning officer at Museums Sheffield, sees first hand the impact these opportunities have.
“Our sites give visitors a chance to get to experience Sheffield’s collections in a fun and accessible way,” she said.
“We provide learning opportunities for everyone who comes through our doors– from families and school groups, right through to trainee teachers, PhD students and adult learners.
“It’s amazing to see children respond to the chance to be creative and learn something outside of a school environment, or see someone master a new skill.
“Visitors are often amazed by the sheer size of artworks in the Graves Gallery, and the vast collection of beautiful objects in the Metalwork Collection.
“It’s brilliant to see people come away from our sessions feeling excited and inspired by the collection – I feel very lucky that it’s my job to share it with them.”
Anita added: “Keeping our sites free means that our doors are open to everyone – we have lots of regular visitors who I recognise on a weekly basis.
“We provide a welcoming space where visitors can feel comfortable – our sites are also a lifeline to lots of visitors, a safe haven and an escape from everyday life.”
Petra Perzl from Nether Edge, a visitor to the current Made in Sheffield exhibition at the Millennium Gallery, enjoys regular visits with her family and finding out about Sheffield’s past.
“It’s been fantastic to see behind the scenes of the city in the Made in Sheffield exhibition – it’s so interesting and makes me proud to live here.
“I love to visit the Millennium Gallery and learn more about Sheffield’s history through the objects in the Ruskin and Metalwork galleries.”
To provide a vibrant, engaging museums service for the people of Sheffield, Museums Sheffield has to raise £500,000 a year in addition to funding from Sheffield Council and Arts Council England.
Kim said: “As a charity, our aim is to provide first-class museums and galleries for the city of Sheffield, and this is only possible through the support of our visitors.
“Every pound that goes into our donation box, every purchase in our shops or cup of tea bought in our cafes supports the work we do and helps keep our museums and galleries free and open for everyone to enjoy.”
Museums Sheffield was established in 1998 as an independent charity to take over the city’s non-industrial museums and galleries from Sheffield Council.
It costs Museums Sheffield £2.6 million a year – or £5.01 a minute – to open its doors, put on exhibitions, provide learning programme and care for collections.
Museums Sheffield welcomes more than a million visitors each year.
In 2015-16, 185 volunteers gave a total of 5,470 hours.
To support Museums Sheffield, make a donation in boxes at Weston Park, the Millennium or Graves galleries, text SHEF003 to 70970 to donate £5, or visit Museum Sheffield