Award ceremonies are usually characterised by polite applause and awkward acceptance speeches. Inevitably, they can drag on a bit. This was not the case with the East Midlands Heritage Awards, now in its third year. The awards, as the title suggests, celebrate all the good that’s gone on in the heritage sector over the past year. Given that the heritage sector is usually the first to feel the brunt of any government cuts, these awards are vital in helping raise the profile and projects of many museums, charities, and noble organisations.
It was hosted at Nottingham Trent University’s Clifton Campus, with the reception taking place in the award-winning Pavilion building. Inside was a flurry of friendliness; people meeting for the first time, old friends reuniting and a ‘confessional booth’ where guests were asked to share their experiences about working in the Heritage sector via five minute vox pops. The building quickly filled up, with over 150 people attending the awards.
One of the event organisers, James Walker, said: “The heritage sector runs largely on guts, good will, and bundles of enthusiasm in the face of adversity. We wanted to catch what it’s like working in the sector - the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that we, and others, can identify support needs. For example, one recurring problem for organisations is that due to budget constraints they don’t have enough staff. Nottingham Trent has a placement programme through our ‘Humanities at Work’ module whereby we can provide placement students from across the humanities to fill a variety of roles.”
For two attendees, Tim and Julian, it was their first time at the EMHA’s, beforehand having known nothing about it. Their work concentrates on children and young adults who have come from a “troubled background” or people “who struggle to integrate themselves into society.” Their positive attitude was echoed in conversations with others attending the event, and it highlighted how under-appreciated this sector can be. These type of awards matter, as they recognise the people who make a difference every day.
The ceremony took place in a nearby lecture theatre, and after a couple of obligatory technical issues, Master of Ceremonies, Dr. John Holmes, began the announcing of the awards. Unlike previous years there are now seven award categories. According to the programme notes, the two new awards were added to ‘recognize [the] amazing volunteers…as well as ensuring that smaller heritage organisations with limited resources can be equally represented.’ The categories and winning entries were:
Totally Voluntary -Nottingham Industrial Museum
Volunteer Empowerment - Heritage Lincolnshire
Engaging Children and Young People - Erewash Museum
Heart of the Community - Green’s Windmill Trust
Innovation - Chain Bridge Forge
The Wendy Golland Award for Quality Research - Hallaton in the Great War Research
Judges Special Award - Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Continuing to subvert the theme of typical ceremonial expectations, there was a creative performance after every award had been collected. Three poets - Lauren Terry, Hannah Cooper-Smithson and LeftLion’s poetry editor Aly Stoneman - filmmaker Richard Weare, and photographer Chantelle Greenslade, all offered creative interpretations of the winning entries. These performances would help raise the profile of the performers, with the possibility of it leading to future commission by members of the audience, and provided the winning organisations with content to use to promote their work. This is why the awards were branded as ‘Celebrating Creativity’.
There is something about a group of people being in a room laughing, congratulating and commiserating with each other which allows for a couple of hours of escapism. However, this isn’t escapism for them; these organisations are their lives. When there is a lot of things in this world to frown about, evenings such as this are a welcome respite - like curling up in front of a warm fire and binge watching the latest series on Netflix. I certainly left with a greater appreciation of the many volunteers and organisations from across the East Midlands who work their guts off to celebrate and promote the heritage that binds their communities.
The East Midlands Heritage Awards are organised by Nottingham Trent University, Museum Development East Midlands, East Midlands Museums Service and Lupson Consultancy.