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  • Writer's pictureLondon Museums Group Team

Interview with Richard McClenaghan

Originally posted on 8 March 2016 #LMGBlogArchive #LMGBlogArchiveProject by Joe Sullivan

Richard McClenaghan is the Development Officer at the Heritage Lottery Fund. Here he sits down with us to talk funding, ziplining and 26 million words of coded diary entries.

Describe your career path?

I originally trained as an archaeologist and then worked as a Site Assistant for private archaeological companies in Northern Ireland on short-term contracts carrying out digs and surveys before taking on a longer term role as an archaeological site assistant in the Fieldwork Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.

After this I worked at Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark as a ranger and guide and worked on park surveys relating to the sustainability and expansion of the park. Feeling the need for some adventure I left Northern Ireland and spent a year in New Zealand working as a general skivvy in hostels before getting a job as a guide at a ski resort and subsequently as a Zipline tour guide (which was amazing and horribly dangerous!).

When I returned home I took up a visitor services role at National Museums Northern Ireland and realised that if I wanted to get ahead I would need to get more training and skills under my belt. I studied for a Masters at the University of York in Cultural Heritage Management; this led to a Project Officer role at Calderdale Museum Service working on an ACE funded project which in turn led to a stint as the Collections and Volunteering Officer for that museum service. I left this position to take on my current role as a Development Officer in the London region for the Heritage Lottery Fund.

What have the next 12 months got in store for you?

In the last few months I have had the opportunity to work on major projects which would normally be dealt with by a more senior member of the team. This has been an exciting opportunity from which I have gained invaluable experience. This has occurred as our longstanding Development Manager left at the end of last year for a new role and, in the interim before a new manager can be appointed, my colleagues and I have taken over their duties. Over the next twelve months many of the major projects I am currently working with will reach the application stage at which point they will be assessed and enter the competitive funding decision stage. I’ll continue to work with an array of organisations across London over the next year as well as taking on responsibility for projects in Brent as it becomes one of our Priority Development Areas from April 2016.

What Museum would you like to be locked in overnight?

The museum of beds, free Wi-Fi and pork products.

What’s the most encouraging thing a visitor or user has ever said to you?

As part of a previous role I managed a team of volunteers. In one instance I was thanked by one of the volunteers who told me that before she began volunteering with the museum service she had no one and spent her days alone; volunteering with the museum service had helped her to make friends, get a part-time job and enjoy her life again.

The openness of this comment shocked me and made me realise the importance of the job I was doing and in turn the significance of local authority museums and their place in communities.

If you could highlight one Museum Object, either in your own museum or elsewhere, what would it be?

Difficult question… There are so many things in collections ranging from things which are downright tedious to downright weird to bloody marvellous; sometimes they’re all three at once!

At Calderdale Museums I carried out quite a bit of work relating to Anne Lister who was an eighteenth century gentle woman and former owner of one of the museum’s properties, she was also a successful businesswoman, pioneering mountaineer and general bad ass. She kept a detailed, coded diary of nearly 26 million words detailing her adventures; the code was used to keep her intimate relationships with other women secret. Due to the sheer scale of these diaries only parts have been translated and even less has been published about this remarkable person. The diaries are cared for by the West Yorkshire Archives and items relating to her life can be found at her ancestral home of Shibden Hall, Halifax.

What would you have been if you hadn’t been a Development Officer?

I have no idea. I grew up in a very rural community in Northern Ireland (there were twelve people in my primary school class and three of them were second-cousins of mine!), as a teenager I used to drive a JCB for farmers, mainly digging slurry pits and draining fields, so perhaps I’d still be doing that.

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