Learning and access officer

Emily Nelson

Emily is responsible for creating, organising and delivering all formal and informal learning and all family activities and events at Lotherton, part of Leeds Museums and Galleries.

What are your main work activities?

Creating, making resources for, organising and delivering all formal and informal learning within the museum, and all family activities and events. Taking part in more targeted projects as and when they arise. Inputting into site development, interpretation and exhibitions from a learning and access point of view.

Tell us about your typical working day.

Getting into work and setting up for a schools workshop, potentially getting into costume for it! Delivering the schools workshop when the school arrives, which can be anything from one hour to four, and for the shorter workshops often involves teaching more than one class one after another. Once the school/s has left, at the latest at 14.00 generally, then it’s back to my office to deal with bookings, work on resources and planning, purchase supplies and planning family activities, researching for new workshops etc. There is also going over proposed interpretation or planning interactives for upcoming exhibitions. I might have a planning meeting to attend or a teacher pre-visit to deliver.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love the variety, being able to deliver different themed workshops and work with children and young people of all ages, and having so much control over what and how we teach in the museum that I work in (Lotherton). Groups of children differ so much, and the best thing about my job is being able to show children who have never been in a setting like Lotherton new things, and inspire them to think bigger. Getting to speak to our members and regular visitors is great, and I love the challenge of constantly having to think ahead to how we can do new things, and do things better.

What are the challenges?

You only ever get to teach a group of children once, so you have to be able to be very responsive to their level of need and prior knowledge, and often you will not be aware in advance (despite asking the question). One of the biggest challenges can be finding the middle ground between what we want and need as educators, i.e. interactivity and handling, and what staff from other disciplines need to do i.e. care of collections, fundraising. Of course, in the current climate, budget and proving a return on expenditure is another key challenge.

Briefly describe your career leading up to today. For example did you do a course in this area? Did you switch career?

I did an undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Medieval Studies. I started my first outreach job on the day I handed my MA dissertation in. Initially, I worked for 12 months in an agricultural college working on a collaborative government funded outreach project with other universities and colleges trying to raise participation in higher education in deprived young people through targeted interventions, mainly in schools. At the end of my 12 month contract, I managed to get a role as community curator at Scarborough Museums Trust doing targeted community outreach and managing a community gallery space. Again, this was another 12 month contract unlikely to be extended due to funding, and after eight months I left to become learning and access officer at Lotherton Hall, part of Leeds Museums and Galleries, on a maternity cover.

What key skills do you need to do your job?

Quick responses to change, high levels of organisation and problem solving, being personable and having a good manner with people, being able to compromise and work as a team, budgeting and financial management, keeping up to date with changes in museums and education, self-motivation.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to work in this area?

If you are struggling to get a job in the sector, but know what area you want to work in, look for roles where you can develop the same skills in a similar line of work, but in a slightly different way. If you can do this while also keeping a toe in with museums, perhaps by volunteering or working in a freelance capacity, you will be in a better position that working in a role within a museum where you are not developing the skills you need. Mainly, keep putting yourself in the running!

Find out more about Emily’s work on the Lotherton pages of the Leeds City Council website.

Join GEM