In the year 2012 the Club was entertained by a talk about the plans for the development of a centre for history, culture and the arts to be based upon the estate of Preston Hall, a large country property near Stockton on the banks of the Tees.  It was already the depository of a number of heritage collections and was to be developed and presented to the public as a museum reflective of local life, history and culture.  The speaker told us that we should plan to revisit it in some seven year’s time when the development was completed.

Christine Hutchinson arrived to tell us of the progress made in its development in the past seven years.   With a brief recap of the origins of the property and its key personalities, its current ownership and management. Christine, as Collections Manager for the Trust, took us into the workings of the museum, telling us how the project had progressed to transform the storage and presentation of the artefacts to accord with modern interpretation of what a museum should be and do in the 21st Century.

She stressed first that the museum was not just a repository of odd items of legacy. Her team of researchers and curators handle the Preston Hall collections of over 100,000 items which have been identified and numbered on the computer database.  The record identifies where within the property each item is stored. Each has to have a library record of its provenance, age and category. Preservation, maintenance and cleanliness of the artefacts are vital aspects of the work, notably by a team of volunteers.    Her second concern was that the Museum should work to attract the public, to enable them to explore and relate to the artefact. Items must be presented to the public in an informative way – beyond the small printed card in the glass cabinet –  so that the items can be touched, held or used .  So the storage unit must be able to yield its artefacts on instant demand. Show case design, its staging, its lighting and its colour have to tell a story.  The museum is not just to enable students to write their dissertations.  Rather it seeks to be open particularly to young people, via schools, to explore their history and culture..

Preston Hall is now well capable of handling major exhibitions, and works with other museums to celebrate the geography, the industry, the peoples and their heritage.

Christine’s talk was hugely informative, enabling members to see the workings of an organisation in a time of radical change.