Q&A: Helen Gurney, curator of Hertford Museum

PUBLISHED: 10:39 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013

Helen Gurney

Helen Gurney

Helen Gurney, curator at Hertford Museum, takes time out to tell Louise McEvoy about a £1.2million refurbishment of the museum and why it is so vital

When did you become curator of Hertford Museum and what does your role involve?
I became curator in April 2002. I was previously working at the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Museum of Liverpool Life. The role involves looking after the museum building, the collections within it and also the staff and volunteers. Tasks include presenting talks, writing reports, putting up temporary exhibitions, organising events and managing maintenance.

What do you enjoy most/least about the job?
I enjoy the variety of things I get to do - every day is different and I meet different characters along the way. I least enjoy budgets - maths was never really my strong point!

When did you first become interested in history?
At junior school - in the days when you started finding out about dinosaurs and worked your way along chronologically!

What aspect of history interests you the most and why?
I'm not a specialist in any particular area, although my favourite objects in the museum collection tend to be 20th century social history related, such as old TVs and household objects.

The museum closed in December for refurbishment, which should take a year to complete. How much will this cost and what does it involve?
The total cost is about 1.2million and involves improving and conserving the museum building, which dates from 1610 and is Grade II listed. There will be a new display space on the first floor, access to our rich paper collections with a new resource room on the ground floor, and an all-purpose activity room. The refurbishment will also allow access for all, with a new lift.

Why was the decision taken to refurbish the premises?
For some time now it's been clear a major investment is needed to improve our services to the community. There was once talk of moving the museum to an all-purpose building on the outskirts of town, but we have a great building in a perfect position for the local community, so we decided to stay and improve what we have.

What have you been doing since the museum closed?
We are still doing outreach activities, fundraising and collections. On top of this, we are very busy researching, writing text and selecting objects for the new displays. We are also planning our temporary exhibition programme for the next few years, as well as preparing for publicity for the new opening and attending site meetings.

What has stood out as a highlight at the museum since you have been working there?
Probably the variety of temporary exhibitions we have created here, including Doctor Who, a centenary exhibition, local art exhibitions, and our 2005 Mucking In and Making Do wartime exhibition.

Excluding Hertford Museum, what one tourist attraction would you recommend to a Hertfordshire visitor and why?
How can I possibly choose one when there is so much in this county? My top three are The Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green, Scott's Grotto in Ware, and Royston Museum.

What hobbies do you have? I enjoy walking through the lovely Hertfordshire countryside, and cycling too. That makes me sound very active, but I am not really. I suppose my favourite hobby is enjoying chocolate!

What is your favourite place in Hertfordshire and why? East Herts, of course - lovely museums, countryside, towns and people.

What is your favourite view in Hertfordshire and why? The view from the church in Widford - it looks great at any time of year.

Describe Hertfordshire in three words. Rural, diverse and historic.

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