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Diary of a Heritage Manager - part 1

So here I am, in my probation period for the best job in the world. A job that I feel privileged to be in. It is an honour to work within the archives of the West Midlands Police Museum, to share the stories of those who went before and to have a real chance to make a difference in building relationships with our communities and inspiring the next generation of police recruits. I thought it might be interesting to hear a little more from behind the scenes of the police museum, hence the introduction of Diary of a Heritage Manager. But first, let me backtrack a little, and tell you how I got here...

I was one of those children that I now want to inspire, by having early engagement with the police in a friendly setting: I went to a West Midlands Police open day at Solihull Police Station when I was 13 and the most memorable part was the purchase of Steve Jones' book - 'Birmingham... the Sinister Side'. This is an incredible book charting crime and punishment in Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham, which ironically I managed to get re-printed in 2018 and now sell in our shop! Following on from that, I first visited the West Midlands Police Museum when I took my parents to one of the open days at Sparkhill around 2006, having been with West Midlands Police for little over a year. I was absolutely fascinated and that was it; my interest was piqued and I was hooked, keen to get involved however I could.

When I became the force's first Records Manager in 2007, charged with implementing the Management of Police Information guidance and publishing a new retention schedule for the force's operational information, I naturally had the opportunity to deal with lots of historic records.

Whilst a great many of these records were required to be destroyed under MoPI and Data Protection Regulations, there were opportunities to identify historically significant materials to be passed to the museum for permanent retention. I oversaw the review of a historic card index that contained records such as a 'wanted' card for the likes of Lord Lucan as well as Ronnie Biggs, one of the individuals charged with carrying out the Great Train Robbery.

These cards were passed to the museum along with some historic HR files that we found in the basement at HQ, during part of a force wide review to identify all the locations that held records.

In 2014, after returning from maternity leave, I went on secondment to HR to look at improving our HR data quality. I saw an opportunity to improve the records management of the historic HR files at the museum, and took it.

With the support of a number of departments who allowed their staff to spend a few hours or a day assisting in the biggest indexing project the museum had ever undergone, we made a record of all of the personnel files that were held at the museum and created the first electronic record of the files that we held. Over subsequent years, with the contribution of students on placement from the University of Birmingham and other volunteers, this record was much enhanced and added to with details of all of the individuals recorded in 24 Birmingham City Police ledgers, Coventry City Police summary records, a Walsall ledger and a Wolverhampton one. Now we had a fantastic database to be able to look up any individual who was subject of genealogy or other enquiries, and understand what we knew about them and what other information we might have.

In 2016 I became a Demand Champion, moving away from records management and getting involved in understanding the estate requirements of West Midlands Police. This involved reviewing the long list of buildings occupied by the force, and helping to make decisions on what buildings were in key strategic locations and needed to be retained and refurbished, and which were too costly and no longer required. It was difficult to make recommendations regarding disposal of buildings, particularly when they are often old and you have an interest in their history.

However, this job proved incredibly useful when the building the museum was located in (Sparkhill Police Station) was listed for disposal, and together with fellow museum volunteer Inspector Steve Rice, we started looking for a new location for the museum.

We searched high and low, checking out opportunities such as Canterbury Road Police Station and a joint collaboration with West Midlands Fire Service in Aston at Ettington Road Fire Station. Eventually it was clear where the best opportunity lay: the former Central Custody Block - the Lock-up on Steelhouse Lane. Vacated in May 2016 following the opening of a 'super block' in Perry Barr, it had been empty ever since - attached to Steelhouse Lane Police Station which was at that time still in use. As a listed building, there were very few opportunities for its future use, and developing it into the new home of the West Midlands Police Museum and preserving its history, seemed by far the best one, for both the museum and the building.

This takes us up to June 2017 when we had our first open day - a joint collaboration with Birmingham Hidden Space. I will cover those first few events and the roller coaster journey up to November 2020 in the next Diary of a Heritage Manager blog, before focusing on current activities in future instalments. Let me know if you enjoyed it - and please give us a follow on Twitter (@WMPHistory) and Facebook (The Lock-up) for more updates.

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