Creating Heritage: A diary during Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Part Eighteen

Over the last year, I have had numerous requests from my team for me to write my ‘Talking Heritage’ blog, and unfortunately I have told them that I was too busy each time. Now, following a week that is sure to go down in history, I have stopped and taken the time to reflect. My job at Canterbury Museums and Galleries is to preserve our City’s heritage and culture, making sure it is relevant and engaging to all. We spend time thinking about what and how we ‘collect’ objects that help uncover our history and tell our story, as well as which we might dispose of, so that we can make room for the new.  In this time of uncertainty and unorthodox decisions, I have decided that instead of choosing an item to talk about from our collection that I will start a new collection. From today, Saturday 21st March 2020, we will document the everyday lives of our community as we pass through this point in time.

Michelle Moubarak, Museums and Cultural Programme Director

Day 120: Saturday 18 July

I wrote my first entry for the diary a few days after lockdown, having worked an entire week from home. I write this entry after a further seventeen weeks, living and working in a similar way.

Since social distancing restrictions have been relaxed considerably, today we received a visit from my sister. Four of us walked along the seafront where we live and made our way to town. There are a lot of people around and many shops and businesses are open, although adhering to regulations. The abundance of social distancing markers, face masks and hand gel has gradually become quite normal. The image with my entry is from a LEGO cinema we made during lockdown, whilst I went to get the ‘Big Screen’ my daughter had given the usher the best PPE there is: a deep sea diving helmet.

We are trying to enjoy the ‘new normal’ experiences we are able to have but are mindful of how precarious things seem. The three of us are looking ahead to a lot of change, my partner has already returned to one of her roles, I will be returning to the museum two days a week very shortly. In September my daughter will start school in (we hope) as normal a way as possible. She says that she’s nervous but excited which I think is very fair and describes my feelings about the rest of 2020 very well too.

By Murray O’Grady, Collections and Learning Assistant

Lego figures watching Beauty and the Beast in a lego model cinema

Day 121: Sunday 19 July

Some impressions of the last 4 months since my last blog entry in March:
Virtual meetings and after work drinks, empty roads, goldfinches nesting in the garden, falling air pollution, excited to find a tin of chopped tomatoes to buy, virtual grand national, endless empty trains, lockdown beard, socially distanced PMQs, stepping to one side when pedestrians approach, doing weights (for a short while anyway), Barnard Castle, socially distanced cycling with a friend, resident’s stoicism in the face of difficult and stressful circumstances, daily walk, fear, maize growing in the fields, creating artwork that I’m really pleased with, not seeing friends and family becoming normal, shouts of “away” Sunday League style by Premier League players in empty football grounds, clapping for carers and the NHS, not playing 5-a-side football, having an amazing wife to share the lockdown pressures with, the daily briefing, asking on a daily basis “Can you hear me?” into my avaya phone app to residents, cancelled trip to see family, banana bread, socially distanced table tennis tournament, not visiting London galleries, birdsong, shocking death toll, Mezzanine Mad Professor remixes (the weekly shopping soundtrack), an Old Fashioned in the garden, not being able to help a family member with their wheelchair needs.

Most of my work time over the last 4 months has been spent on calls for the Council’s Crisis Support Hub. I am proud to work for an organisation that aided members of the community when they urgently needed help and to work with people, many of whom in this new normal I know only through an online chat space and may never even meet, who really care about ensuring people have food, medication and emotional support.

Back to The Beaney last week and doing one of the things I really enjoy about my job – curating and installing an exhibition, with my (socially distanced) colleague Charlotte. I also took part in training with teammates (easily the biggest gathering I’ve been in since March) on the new ways we will be operating and it was heartening to see many friendly pairs of eyes even as previously routine undertakings (like working alongside someone else) now seem new and strange.

Mid July, things for me are starting to appear nearly normal in lots of ways but I am often wrongfooted by how different things actually now are and feel.

By Paul Russell, Programming Officer

Dirt track through the middle of a wheat field

Day 122: Monday 20 July

122 days since I walked out into my garden and wondered what might happen next. 122 days since my daughter was at school. 122 days since I asked colleagues, friends and strangers to document our collective experience of what it means to be ‘locked down’.

Today the final preparations have been made at the museum and the galleries will reopen at 10am tomorrow morning. Facemasks and hand sanitising stations are the new normal, but it all feels very strange still. Last week I returned to the Beaney for the first time in months to film our new safety film to let people know what to expect when they visit. The poem, inspired by this diary, lined the walkways marking out our 2m of safety. It is fabulous.

Between meetings and preparations I take my daughter into school for 2hrs to meet her new Year 3 teacher. It is the first time she has been allowed back to school since this all started and it was like she had never been away.

As I write this I reflect on how obsessed we have become by numbers and words to make sense of our world. There is still so much we don’t understand about the virus, but I do feel we understand each other a little better than we did before. 

By Michelle Moubarak, Museums and Cultural Programme Director

Father and Daughter looking at a museum display case

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Artefacts in exhibition case The Beaney Museum

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