Brighton Toy and Model Museum: A volunteer’s story

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Luke Wyborn, first year student of BA (Hons.) Museum and Heritage Studies, promotes a local museum and describes his role there.

Brighton Toy and Model Museum view. Photo by Luke Wyborn

The Brighton Toy and Model Museum was established by avid toy collector and renovator Chris Littledale in 1990 and has been entertaining and educating visitors ever since. Located in the arches underneath Brighton Station, its four thousand square feet of exhibiting space contains over ten thousand toys and models, including priceless model train sets and many period antique toys. Its display area includes two large operational model railway layouts (in 00-gauge and gauge 0), and displays of period pieces from a range of classic manufacturers that includes Bing, Dinky, Hornby, Marklin, Meccano, Pelham Puppets, and Steiff. The Museum also includes individually-engineered pieces such as the working quarter-scale traction engine and the Spitfire fighter planes in the lobby, and a range of other working scale models throughout the Museum.

The museum prides itself on having one of the largest toy collections in the world owned by a single person, with displays showcasing artefacts from over a hundred years ago. The Museum worked towards official Museum Libraries and Archives Council accreditation for many years, finally receiving this recognition on 30th July 2009. It has featured in many television programmes over the years including Sky Atlantic’s “Urban Secrets” with Alan Cumming and most recently BBC4’s “Timeshift: The Joy Of (Train) Sets”, available to view on BBC iPlayer.

I’ve been volunteering at the Museum since November 2012 and during that time have benefitted immensely from working behind the scenes and learning the day to day activities and duties that are needed to run a successful museum. Shortly after I began, the Museum received a funding grant of £34,000 from the National Lottery for the upcoming 150th anniversary of Frank Hornby, of which the Museum will be holding celebratory events and ‘train running’ days over the next few months. They have also recently purchased Galaxy Tablets that will be installed around the Museum with (eventually) the entire Museum collection catalogued and available to view on these devices in a ‘wiki’ style. This cataloguing of the exhibits has been no easy task however, and myself and all the other volunteers have been hard at work, writing and photographing, to make this a reality.

Other recent roles I’ve had include making amendments to the Museum emergency procedure booklet and updating where necessary, as well as writing the draft edit of the Care and Conservation procedure needed for the 2013 MLA accreditation. Some of these roles have been quite challenging but in the long run, being a first year Museum & Heritage Studies undergraduate, I feel they’ve given me much deeper understanding of the mechanics of a museum and will benefit me in the future, especially as I won’t have the free time by my third year studies to continue in this role. I’d thoroughly recommend anyone interested in this field to come and volunteer, you’ll learn a lot, the staff are friendly and very knowledgeable in their field, and the free coffee isn’t too bad either!

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