Reflections on Accreditation

What’s it like to go through the process of getting your museum Accredited? We asked Alasdair McVicar from Westray Heritage Centre to reflect on his experience.

Westray Heritage Centre was delighted to be awarded Full Museum Accreditation status in the autumn of last year. For a small organisation run by volunteers, obtaining such a widely recognised credibility mark is a milestone achievement recognising our standards used to collect, conserve and make available to the public items of cultural significance to the island of Westray in Orkney.

Westray Heritage Centre
Westray Heritage Centre

After deciding that there could be significant benefits to Westray Heritage, several years of preparation followed before formally entering the application process in 2014. Clearly any officially recognised standard that has any real meaning must have demanding requirements that have to be met and then be maintained. Museum Accreditation is no exception, so the final assessment inspection was both thorough and highly professional.

Preparations to put in place many of the background requirements involved different Directors using previous experience assessing heritage establishments in the North of Scotland and from attending training sessions locally and in Inverness. We found the online guidance notes on the procedures and associated documentation necessary for collecting, conserving, managing and displaying heritage items to be soundly based on common sense and achievable (with some hard work) even for a small establishment. A major factor ensuring preparations were being done properly was having access to the advice of experienced mentors from Orkney Arts, Museums and Heritage Services (Janette Park and Sheila Garson).

The interior of Westray Heritage Centre
The interior of Westray Heritage Centre

A question the Directors of the Trust have often asked is ‘what are the benefits Accreditation would bring?’ Having achieved a professional benchmark of standards which is recognised nationally enables us to give a guarantee to anybody that artefacts of personal or family importance donated to the Heritage Centre collections will be kept in Westray and always properly looked after for posterity. Encouraging donations is critical, as the emphasis of our permanent collection is local family heritage, rather than general antiquities. Similarly, the Centre is now able to give a similar quality assurance to individuals, or other heritage centres and museums, holding items associated with Westray back on temporary loan for exhibitions or displays.

Westray is rich in heritage artefacts extending from Neolithic, through Iron Age, Viking to more recent. Safe display to national standards is possible for artefacts collected by ongoing archaeological investigations but still not officially assigned to collections. An example currently being exhibited is the earliest Scottish human representation (the “Westray Wife” figurine) found at the Links of Noltland, currently loaned by Historic Environment Scotland.

In addition to helping to encourage ownership of the Centre by residents of Westray (population approximately 550), it is hoped that the credibility associated with Accreditation should attract an increased number of visitors above the current 3,400, so improving financial viability and having less dependency on grant assistance from museum and other sources.

 

Please have a look at our website or contact our Quality Assurance Manager for advice on any aspect of the Accreditation Scheme.

Jenny Youngson | t: 0131 550 4124 | e: jennifery@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk

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