It was always going to be a challenge, picking up an established awards ceremony in the beginning of a pandemic!
When I started the MDO role in July, the awards event had been postponed from March and rebooked for October at the Royal Cornwall Showground. We needed to make a decision quickly on whether we would go ahead, or try something else. As a team, we considered what an online version might be like and if we could produce it. Holding a physical event began to look too risky, so we decided to go for it virtually.
The good news for me was that so much of the planning for the event had been done in time for March, and I had a huge amount of support from CMP’s Marketing and Impact Officer, Jody. We just needed to translate an in-person event online.
My priority was to make the event feel celebratory and not like just another video meeting. Fortunately, we already had the wonderful and supportive Daphne Skinnard of BBC Radio Cornwall booked to host the event, and she could not have been more enthusiastic and accommodating about going online.
The great thing about going online was being able to open up the existing guest list and be less restrictive on numbers, having made sure our Zoom account could cope. A lot of my prep time for the event was spent compiling and sending out information by email – thank you to everyone who forwarded on the information to their groups and came back to me with the information I needed.
For me, an integral part of any celebration is food and drink. I started thinking about how we could do that remotely and goody bags seemed to be the answer. This was a great opportunity for me to test out the CMP environmental strategy of ‘vegan first, digital first, sustainable first,’ as well as shopping local. I found sweet and savory snacks, Cornish tea in a reusable teabag and a handmade soap as a little treat (well, we’re all washing our hands a lot at the moment).
The suppliers were all delightful and it was a joy to have lovely conversations with them about their products and what I was going to use them for. I definitely picked up some more sustainable shopping habits along the way.
My next job was to make the presentation for the event look as visually appealing as possible and to make sure everyone got to see a taster of all the shortlisted nominees. Luckily, most applications were submitted with photographs and the ones that weren’t were quick to send me images when I asked.
I also wanted to make a feature of the eight finalists for ‘Object of the Year’ – they were such an amazing group of objects I thought they deserved some airtime. So, I asked each organisation to make a short video explaining what the object is and why it is so special. At this point, I felt I might be straying into Eurovision postcard territory, but I really felt like video interludes would help keep the event flowing.
Producing videos was no mean feat when some museums were closed and when others were open with reduced staff and volunteers. I thought it was wonderful how different each video was. To me, they not only demonstrated the variety of amazing collections in Cornwall, but also the diversity and creativity of our heritage organisations and their staff and volunteers.
I really enjoyed the event itself. Daphne’s warmth and genuine enthusiasm for heritage in Cornwall came across virtually and Jody’ thumbs were a blur as she live posted our winners and congratulations on Twitter. Everyone who accepted an award did a wonderful job and it was fantastic for all attendees to be able to see them and give a virtual round of applause. I wasn’t able to read the chat at the time, but the messages of congratulations and support were so lovely to browse through afterwards. And when everyone put their microphones on at the end, that was just fabulous. There were plenty of smiles and laughter and to me, that was the best it could have been.
The highlight of the event for me was that heritage organisations across the county from Bude to the Isles of Scilly were able to take part without any of the usual geographical barriers. Having students join us from the Five Islands Academy was the most wonderful thing and something that needs to be incorporated into future Heritage Awards when we return to ‘normal’. On the other hand, holding events virtually can be a barrier for some people. I tried to make sure all attendees were able to get online, offering practice sessions and a written help guide, and I am mindful to continue and increase this support in future. We made closed captioning available for the event, and I’m sure there is more we could do to make future Heritage Awards as inclusive as possible.
I was blown away by the positive messages and feedback CMP received after the event. I think we did justice to the Awards and to all the incredible, inspiring people and projects across the whole of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. That said, I don’t think it really matters that much how I think it went – what is much more important is that everyone investing their time and effort in Cornish heritage feels that the Cornwall Heritage Awards are representative, reflective and celebratory of their achievements. I’m always open to feedback, especially now that I’m looking forward to the next awards!
Steph Clemens, Museum Development Officer, CMP