An exploration of the evolution of marriages, christenings and funerals throughout Helston’s history. The exhibition gives an insight into the Church’s fascinating past and explores the human narratives it has witnessed, from wartime weddings to the burials of some of Helston’s most prominent figures. The exhibition is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and forms part of the ‘Firm Footings’ project to replace the floor of St Michael’s and share the building with the community.


My job is unusual. I cannot think of another role which would require you to explore the local churchyard on a foggy day, present a live broadcast on how to make paint from washing up liquid and dress mannequins in 20th century wedding gowns. Not only has my nine-month traineeship offered me a range of untraditional skills, it has shown me how museums are uniquely placed to serve the local community, connecting people simultaneously to their pasts and their futures.

I first came to The Museum of Cornish Life, which houses one of the largest social history collections in the South West, as a volunteer in 2019. On entering the building, I was stunned by the diversity of objects on display, from WW2 gasmasks to a 20th century dentist’s drill complete with foot pedal (I cannot walk past it without hearing ‘Dentist!’ from Little Shop of Horrors…) Every direction you take in the museum leads you to a new narrative and the thought of being surrounded by such fascinating stories led me to apply for the role of Trainee Curator, a post supported by Cornwall Museums Partnership and a range of local and national funders. There are five Trainee Curators working in museums and galleries across Cornwall; myself at The Museum of Cornish Life, Sian at Wheal Martyn Clay Works, Katie and Sarah and Bodmin Keep: Cornwall’s Army Museum and Lizzy at Falmouth Art Gallery. The Trainee Curators programme was established to diversify the cultural workforce in Cornish museums and historical sites by offering more accessible opportunities to young people. Alongside the practical experience we gain every day in our cultural institutions, we have attended lectures on a range of topics from natural sciences to public speaking, visited both local and national museums and each produced our own exhibition. We have also documented our experiences in a podcast called ‘Talking Intern,’ which aims to give young people an insight into the process of emerging as a museum professional.

Throughout my traineeship I have learnt that my enthusiasm for heritage lies with its universality; each of us has ancestors and a past we are unable to remember. Social history museums in particular remind us that being human is a shared experience, something the past six months have demonstrated in the most striking way. One of the aspects of my work I enjoy the most is visiting memory cafes with objects from the museum’s handling collection. Items ranging from 1950s whisks to bars of soap have the capacity to unlock memories in those with dementia, promote discussion and open channels of communication which might otherwise seem blocked. We also host ‘digital dial ins’ for those unable to physically access the museum. Each week we’ve been giving live tours of the museum’s collections and exhibitions to residents in a local care home who often share memories connected to the objects on display.

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 altered my working landscape. One day I was curating a display and the next I was sat at my kitchen table, attempting to set up a ‘Zoom’ account. The museum’s temporary closure led to me working remotely on museum policy and focussing on digital content, culminating in a valid learning experience, just one I hadn’t envisaged. As lockdown restrictions were eased, I was able to slowly return to my ‘in house’ projects and continue to document the museum’s art store; one of my main traineeship tasks. Unwrapping each artwork and not knowing what you’ll find on the canvas makes every day feel like Christmas… with a few more frowning Victorians. From home I was able to begin coordinating the exhibition ‘St Michael’s Church: Love, Life and Loss,’ which forms part of a wider community project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Seeing the exhibition come to fruition, ready for the museum’s reopening on August 3rd, was hugely rewarding and signalled to me that museums would still be able to provide engaging and absorbing cultural experience (with one-way systems and hand sanitiser in place).

To anyone interested in beginning a career in heritage, I would highly recommend the Trainee Curators Programme. Not only have I developed curatorial, digital and research skills throughout my traineeship, I have also had the pleasure of working with some of the most knowledgeable and encouraging heritage professionals in the South West. Whatever direction my career in heritage takes, I will always remember how The Museum of Cornish Life is a community as much as a cultural institution. Volunteers are valued, visitors are welcomed, and trainees such as myself are given the support they need to develop into conscientious heritage professionals. In all honesty, the most vital lesson I have learnt from my traineeship is not how to check pest traps, take humidity readings or treat leather for red rot, it is the overwhelming importance of operating an organisation with kindness and respect.

Rachel Haddy

Rachel Haddy

Rachel grew up in Lanner, Cornwall and has a BA in English from the University of Exeter. Rachel gained a TESOL qualification in 2018 and has taught English in Switzerland and Spain. She has volunteered with various heritage organisations including The Royal Cornwall Museum, The Museum of Cornish Life and The National Trust.

Rachel has experience in community radio and enjoys writing. She has recently been published in an anthology of eco-critical poetry. Rachel is a keen walker.

Following her Trainee Curator placement Rachel joined the National Trust as a Visitor Experience Officer at Godolphin and the Tin Coast. She also spent two years as a Trustee for Mor Media Charity. Rachel now works as a Careers Adviser.