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New curator joins Museum of English Rural Life

Isabel Hughes

'I am looking forward to playing a leading part in developing the undergraduate teaching based at MERL and supporting initiatives to develop increased student engagement and to help promote the Museum's academic programmes.' Isabel Hughes, new MERL Curator

The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) is pleased to welcome Isabel Hughes, its new Curator of Collections and Engagement.

Isabel has nearly thirty years of museums experience and began her career as Assistant Keeper at the Livesey Museum, London Borough of Southwark where she worked on exhibitions. She was Assistant Education Officer at the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London, and then Head of Education at Hampshire County Museums Service for nine years.

Isabel was Head of Access and Learning at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, South East until 2007 when she became a freelance consultant working on access, learning, interpretation and audience development projects.

She said: "I am delighted to be joining the staff at MERL. I came to know the museum as a monitor for the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) supported project that moved the museum and its collections from Whiteknights to its new home in Redlands Road.

"I have always been impressed with the range and quality of these collections. They tell a fascinating story of changing rural traditions through artefacts ranging from impressive pieces of farming technology, like our threshing machine and Massey Ferguson tractor to the work of rural craftspeople, from thatchers to wood turners.  We also hold spectacular photographic collections that document the changing farming landscape over the last century as well as specific textiles holdings, such as banners and smocks.

"In 2008 the museum embarked on a new initiative with HLF funding ‘Collecting Cultures' that has enabled us to actively collect more recent and more iconic material relating to food, farming and countryside. This activity has given us the opportunity to consider how we can tell other stories, including how changing attitudes to the countryside have been expressed through artefacts.

"The refocusing of our collecting and interpretation will be a major part of my work. In particular, we are looking at how our galleries can be redeveloped over the coming years to engage new audiences (for whom our collections are well beyond living memory) and exploit new technologies so to make our collections knowledge more accessible both online and to the wider visiting public.

"I have been impressed by the museum's track record in engaging student volunteers in its work and will be looking to develop our museum modules in partnership with other departments that address both museum based and other transferable skills. I am looking forward to playing a leading part in developing the undergraduate teaching based at MERL and supporting initiatives to develop both increased student engagement with collections and to help promote the Museum's academic programmesand research.

"MERL has a lot to offer both the University community and the public visitor. We are about to celebrate MERL's 60th anniversary and I am pleased to be in the position of leading its next stage of development."

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