The Pattern of Life
The Pattern of Life is a project funded by the Arts Council to create a digital story book for the Royal Crown Derby Museum showcasing and sharing stories from Gypsy Romany and Traveller people who collect Royal Crown Derby.
The Pattern of Life is a project in which Royal Crown Derby Museum set out to collect and share stories from the Gypsy Romany and Traveller people who collect and treasure Royal Crown Derby. The project began through a chance encounter between Romany storyteller Richard O’Neill and me. Richard was delivering some staff training at a Darlington Borough Council conference when I was working there ‘between’ jobs in the cultural sector. I got talking to Richard in the break and told him I had just been offered a job as the Director of the Royal Crown Derby Museum. He was very enthusiastic and told me that Royal Crown Derby was frequently collected by others he knew amongst the Romany community. I hadn’t known this and I promised him rather jokingly that when I took the job we should do a project together to find out more.
6 months later, and I was just picking up the reins at Royal Crown Derby when the pandemic hit. What better thing to do with my time than pick up the phone to Richard and make good on my promise.
I was very conscious that I had never worked with the Gypsy, Romany or Traveller (GRT) communities before and that to come in as an outsider we would need the support of those who worked within the GRT community every day. So, I called up Rural Media who publish the Traveller’s Times and found our local Gypsy Liaison Group. Both organisations gave me very good advice and with Richard on board as project partner we put in an application for funding to Arts Council England which we were very lucky to receive.
The intention was to collect stories online and then build them into a digital story book using a touch screen TV which we had purchased with funding from Museums Development East Midlands. For this we needed a tech partner and being near neighbours to Derby QUAD they were the logical place to go to. QUAD did a great job of building and installing the digital story book and Vertigo Creative did the wall graphics for us which put the installation in its context within the museum experience. Now all our visitors can learn about the significance of Royal Crown Derby to the GRT people who collect it, which is an important part of our social history.
When we launched the project, I set up a website asking for submissions, and we shared that link widely. I sat back and waited for the submissions to roll in. They didn’t. I waited, we got one then two submissions- then nothing. I started to get worried and talked to my advisors and project partners about what was not working. It was suggested that the submission process was too complex, so I set up WhatsApp with my work number and allowed submissions that way. We got a few more submissions but still not very many.
Richard and I felt that a warmer more personal approach was required, and we both worked hard to reach out to people and invite them to participate. We also entered participants into a prize draw to encourage them to take part. We had thought that lockdown would be a good time to reach out, but Covid hit GRT communities hard both physically and mentally and many people said they would like to contribute but just didn’t feel they had the head space at the moment.
In the end we didn’t get nearly as many submissions as we would have liked but we did some very good quality ones. I really felt that we needed more time to think about how we could build relationships and trust to build on what we got. So rather than draw a line under it when the funding is spent and the activity done we have built in a way to continue asking for submissions and adding them into our story archive which is accessible online and on site.
Some takeaway successes from the project for us were:
- To build relationships with individual participants even where they wanted to be anonymous.
- To think about how we gave something back to participants – all contributors got a pass for a free factory tour for their friends and family
- To use resources within the GRT community – our evaluator (which was a paid role) was found through the local Derby Gypsy Liaison Group.
- To work with trusted partners
- To seek advice from those who know
I felt that I learned a great deal through this project, and I also got a glimpse into people’s lives which was at times both moving and touching. I had some great conversations with contributors and I hope that can continue as we move into the next and ongoing phase of the project.
Elizabeth Woledge is the Director of the Royal Crown Derby Museum, it is the museum’s mission to celebrate and share the stories and experiences associated with Royal Crown Derby to awaken curiosity, inspire creativity, encourage innovation, and to transform people’s relationships to ceramics.
Museum Director Elizabeth Woledge
Project Partner Storyteller Richard O’ Neill
Richard O’Neill is a multi-award award winning, Storyteller, Author and workshop leader based in Manchester. He has a particular interest in using stories to promote inclusion and social mobility.