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Local History Month: Havering Museum ‘wouldn’t be here’ without dedication of board and volunteers

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:21 09 May 2017

Havering Museum celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2015. Pete Owen, chairman Peter Stewart, Carol Hutton, Barry Nicholls and Pete Johnson

Havering Museum celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2015. Pete Owen, chairman Peter Stewart, Carol Hutton, Barry Nicholls and Pete Johnson

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“We’re here to record the history of Havering, and make it accessible.”

Pete Johnson photographed at the museum in 2015, its fifth anniversaryPete Johnson photographed at the museum in 2015, its fifth anniversary

That, in a nutshell, is the mission of Havering Museum, as described by chairman Peter Stewart when the Recorder caught up with him to chat all things heritage for Local History Month.

With the borough’s incredibly rich history – the now-lost Havering-atte-Bower royal palace, Romford Market, the Roman Road 9 et al – it seems unfathomable that Havering has only been blessed with its own museum for seven years.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of those who were eventually able to found it – and all those who have been involved since – the attraction has grown into a vibrant community hub.

“We’re here to conserve and preserve the history of Havering, which to many people’s surprise dates back to prehistory,” said Peter.

Vienna Jones, nine, and Ria Jones, seven, at Havering Museum's kids' takeoverVienna Jones, nine, and Ria Jones, seven, at Havering Museum's kids' takeover

“We then had the Romans, Saxons, Tudors... We had the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower and Romford Market got the royal seal of approval [from Henry III, 1240s].

“The Roman Road 9 was used by kings and queens right from Edward the Confessor to Charles I.”

The museum, on the site of the “iconic” old brewery, High Street, Romford, plays an important role in the community, hosting visits from schoolchildren and youth groups, working with interns and businesses, running over-50s clubs and recording the memories of care home residents, some of whom are war veterans and have shared “amazing stories”.

It is wholly staffed by volunteers, who number about 60, with roles including front of house work, bookkeeping, exhibitions planning and the conservation of items in the collections.

Romford Brewery in 1980. Picture: Havering Libraries - Local StudiesRomford Brewery in 1980. Picture: Havering Libraries - Local Studies

The museum is also a member of Discover Me, a consortium of 14 heritage sites in London and Essex which pools knowledge and resources, with members including Rainham Hall, Upminster Windmill and the Old Chapel, Upminster.

“It’s very important, because most of us are charities, so we depend on funding,” said Peter.

“We depend on each other to broadcast the fact that we’re around. As a collective I think it’s important we can share each other’s news and ideas.

“It’s very tough out there at the moment, museums up and down the country are closing. We couldn’t just be a museum, we’ve had to get out and become important to the community.

Billy Mathews, eight, at Havering Museum's kids' takeoverBilly Mathews, eight, at Havering Museum's kids' takeover

“Without the dedication of our board of directors and team of volunteers we wouldn’t be here.”

Aside from the regular refreshing of galleries, and hosting of temporary displays across a wide range of subjects, the attraction runs a series of popular clubs: the over-50s variety and reminiscence groups, plus a photographic club, which hosts a display of members’ work each year.

The reminiscence club continues to grow in popularity, with members aged from 55 to 92, who each Friday discuss a different topic, with upcoming sessions including favourite recipes, 1960s popular culture, wedding photographs and bygone Upminster and Cranham.

“For some of these people that’s their only contact with the outside world,” said Peter.

Forward planning is an essential part of volunteers’ roles: exhibitions are booked up for the next two years, including a top secret arrival for April 2018, which is set to be “huge”.

For the remainder of 2017, the site is focusing on getting more schools in for talks (which it has secured funding for) and applying for accreditation status from Arts Council England, which would move it up to the “premier league of museums”.

Exhibition wise, upcoming highlights include displays on the 1665-66 plague and 1950s fashion, while a visiting exhibition from Rainham Hall runs until July. All of which would be impossible without the dedication of volunteers.

“Everyone works extremely hard, everyone has a role,” said Peter. “It’s like a big jigsaw really, we’ve got our corner bits, side bits, everybody else fills in the main picture and it comes together.”

To find out more about the museum, its events programme and Havering’s heritage, visit havering museum.org.uk, call 01708 766571 or simply stop by.

The Recorder is celebrating Local History Month throughout May.

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