Kids in Museums work with museums and galleries across the UK to make them more welcoming spaces for children and their families. Ten years ago they launched Takeover Day, where children and young people take over the jobs of museum staff and volunteers in historic and cultural organisations.
The V&A Museum of Childhood has participated in Takeover Day since 2017. Led by the Learning Team but involving everyone across the museum, this is a significant day in the museum’s annual calendar.
This year’s Takeover Day was on 22 November and we had 55 nine and ten year olds from Globe Primary School taking over our positions. Small groups of children became Art Activity Facilitators, Corporate Hire Managers, Curatorial Assistants, Directors, Exhibitions Assistants, Marketing Assistants, Meet & Greet Assistants, Operations Assistants, Shop Assistants, Spotlight Talks Guides, Teaching Assistants, Storytellers and Tour Guides. Each group had two training sessions in the previous months to get to know the staff, understand their roles and get ready for the big day.
This was my first Takeover Day, which filled me with both excitement and trepidation. It has taken me years and years to gain the competencies to be a museum Director, so how could I enable children to have an authentic experience in such a limited time? How could I ensure they had a meaningful day while having fun?
My four Directors were wonderful – curious, compassionate, collaborative, critical and confident, and we got to know and respect each other in the process.
Training day one was spent demystifying my role. Much to their astonishment, I do not spend my day with my feet on my desk (!!) looking at CCTV through my computer monitor. We role-played how Directors give praise and have difficult conversations. We also explored the different leadership styles and how they could each use their strengths.
On their second training day the children interviewed different teams to find out what motivated them so they could write better-informed welcoming and closing speeches. I was pleasantly surprised that their speeches were so comprehensive and really good. We practiced them on other colleagues and volunteers, and in the process they reviewed and improved them. Before they left, they were convinced that ‘two sessions are not enough to become Directors’ – a good lesson!
One of the things that I wanted them to go away with (and that was a long way from where they started) was that to be the Director, you need to be willing to serve, empower, enable and praise (rather than be served or praised yourself). You are a role model for your teams, which can be tiring and lonely, but also very fulfilling.
On the day, our Directors delivered their speeches with confidence and passion, took part in a branding workshop with our external agency and put forward ideas for the identity of our new museum. They also observed and talked to other teams, asking them questions, making suggestions and praising them for their good work. One of their highlights was to speak to Tristram Hunt, the V&A Director, who enquired about our our visitor numbers and revenue, and gave us opportunity to discuss why such performance indicators matter for our museum. Another highlight was meeting Rushanara Ali, who has been the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow since 2010, and showing her Open Studio and the model of our new museum.
We all parted fulfilled, excited for a day well spent, but also with sadness that it had ended.
My first Takeover Day was definitely a success and I am looking forward to many more in the future.