Hello everyone, this year the message has a particular significance as you probably know. Three hours ago I closed the doors of the museum to the public for the last time, and I’m feeling a bit emotional as I’m sure that you will appreciate.
The End of A Chapter
As things stand, this will be my 16th and final annual Christmas Message of thanks to you all from Dudley Museum and Art Gallery here in St James Road, Dudley. This place has been serving the public and the town since 1883. Since then, many individuals have been involved and steered it’s development to this moment in time, and it feels very strange to be the last one in that chain of history. Together I guess we have slowly built, nurtured and protected the heritage collections and ushered in new interpretive ideas and themes along all those years. Looking back at all those achievements over decades, I consider myself to be very blessed to have had the opportunity to become one of those privileged few and to be part of the story of this wonderful place and its historic collections. Whatever the future brings I know they will continue to inspire down the ages and far beyond my personal link in this particular Black Country chain.
On a personal historical note, this building and its activities have been part of my life since I was a young child. They went on to become a central part of my life following graduation in 1984. The shy young Earth scientist that I was back then has grown a lot in confidence and ability in the passing years thanks largely to the tolerance and guidance of a lot of great people. I have witnessed amazing work here of many passionate and dedicated people who have inspired and taught me so much over the years. They worked hard and selflessly to protect the geological heritage, making many sacrifices to safeguard the geological collections and get them back into the public realm in the most dynamic and spectacular ways. In these last 31 years as part of this building and its life, I have seen that collective effort reach out to more than a million people and positively impact many lives (mine included). I have seen what we do really help some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged amongst us. I think I understand the real power and value of inspiration now and hopefully we can take that forward in the new venue. This building though and its place in the heart of the town’s community has been a big part of that character and service to-date. So this for me is one of those particularly poignant moments, and I’m very aware that It heralds the start of a whole new chapter in our story – wherever it may lead.
Caught in the winds of Change
It really is a most confusing and scary time if you are working in public service. In our case, with all the impacts and positive stories we generate, I don’t believe that anyone at all wanted this museum to close and its service to be compromised. I guess that the severity of the situation facing local authority funding simply finds us not ‘up there’ as a political priority in the overall ranking of public service priorities and as a cultural entity we have no legal protection as many other service area’s do. So it would appear that in this iteration of what we are the powers that be have decided that our time has come. It’s time for us now to evolve to survive in a rapidly changing world. Fortunately geology is full of evolutionary successes so I hope that we will go on to be one of them.
I Don’t mean to make light of things, going through this process has been very difficult for everyone here. My heart particularly goes out to so many of you who’ve had to go through this yourselves in recent times or may also be facing this in the future. Everyone here has invested a huge amount of themselves into the service and it’s been very hard to be part of this particular change.
It has however given us the chance to take stock. It’s given the public and colleagues the chance to tell us about lives that we’ve touched and incredible number of friends that we have made across the years and across the world. Hearing about what we have meant to people (often across several generations of a family) and the depth of feelings that they have for us is really moving. So it’s been very special to receive those kind words particularly in our culture where it’s something that seems so often go unspoken in British society. (I’ve heard colleagues say that you never hear from people when you are doing something right but you hear straight away when you got just one little thing wrong!) Well that’s not been the case for us this year so thank you for all the kind thoughts, good wishes and prayers that you have been generous enough to share with us – it means more than you know and particularly to team members who will be leaving us.
Thank you so much
Again speaking personally, I have many emotions running through me at this moment, but I believe that the overwhelming one is gratitude. This is focussed on all of you who have believed in us, helped us in any way, given us opportunities to grow and be more than a little town museum might otherwise expect to be. Also a huge thank you to all who have shared in any part of this truly incredible experience with us along the way. It is the end of a very special era in our little world. I have a huge array of wonderful memories that I will always treasure and I know that in our time we made a real difference and made things so much richer and better through the things we did. Thank you so much.
So I think it’s time to celebrate all that we have been together as we move into a new chapter for the museum. Despite the sadness that comes with loss and change, I will share, in images in the attached document, the fruits of another incredible year working with such an amazing bunch of people. As ever, it is just a snapshot of the projects for which I have information to hand. Please forgive me if your particular associations with us are not included, ommision was not intended. This year I’ve compressed the images into a PDF year so hopefully despite its 5 pages, it will be a manageable size and get to you with no problems. I hope that you enjoy looking through these memories as much as I did assembling them. If you feel that others would like to see this message and the memories and thank s it contains please feel free to forward onwards and share this message with those you think would welcome it.
Despite the closure of this venue I will still be here and some aspects of our service will move forward. The future lies within the promise of continuing to work with partners on becoming a UNESCO Global Geopark for the whole of the Black Country and working on some amazing projects together. Here in Dudley it will involve relocating displays, the geopark headquarters and the research work to the new building of Dudley Archives adjacent to the Black Country Living Museum Entrance on Castle Hill. We have ideas and projects in place with all the other Black Country authorities and our surrounding partners so next year will be an amazing, challenging year of change and new direction and I hope that it will be a wonderful one for us all.
Some words of inspiration
I’ll finish this year with a couple of things that I’ve read in 2016 that have moved or inspired me (and seem fitting as we move ahead into the unknown of the year ahead). The first is a short poem from a young, Black Country creative writer called Elinor Cole who had a small exhibition with us this summer. She wrote a number of poems that I felt reached into the heart of the Black Country spirit of fortitude and sacrifice in my opinion. In her poem ‘The Colliers Wiife’ using some Black Country dialect, for me she captured the dilemma and angst that must have been a daily routine for many Black Country families during the height of the coalfield’s activity. It has a warmth and compassion about the real lives involved that I think is fab. I hope you like it.
Yoom reckless, I tell him, as I tend to
his wounds – the cuts, the clouts,
limbs battered and bruised.
It ay worth it, I tell him, as he claims
that he’s fine – that he’s at his
happiest when down in the mine.
He makes promises to leave, but I know
that he’ll stay – he loves it down
there, with the soil and the clay.
So I kiss him farewell, but when
I’m alone – I pray to God that
today, he’ll just make it back home.
It reminds me that my chosen subject of Earth Science is not a remote or dispassionate entity but its knowledge was hard-won and practical, in the lives of real people and for real people. I hope we can capture some of this soulful human touch in the displays and projects of the Geopark work next year.
The second is taken from the commemorative book produced for the queens 90th birthday. I believe her to be a lady of great dignity, perception and faith who wrote in her Christmas address to the nation in 2002 about her motivations and hopes within a longer term perspective on troubles of the day or the more distant future. She said;
‘I know how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way that I can live my life is to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God’
Both to me speak of abiding hope, courage and strength in facing the future fears and uncertainty. Their themes resonate with me, particularly at this moment when so much is changing and I take much inspiration from these words and we enter our new chapter.
So despite the changes and uncertainties and the global turmoil, Brexit and all the rest, it’s been a year with its fair share of great stuff too that provide a better focus and I’m sure next year will bring many more highlights , come what may.
Once again, sincere heartfelt thanks for your support in this and all those other wonderful years.
Very best wishes to you and all those you hold dear for a wonderful Christmastime and new year. Let’s hope it’s a kind one to all of us.
On behalf of the Dudley Museum Team for one last time
Graham Worton BSc, FGS, C Geol
Keeper of Geology
Dudley Museum and Art Gallery
St James Road
West Midlands DY1 1HP