Learning from the past to make a better future – Janita Bagshawe leaving Royal Pavilion & Museums

As head of a museum service which includes a Royal palace and an Edwardian house said to be the most haunted in Brighton, Janita Bagshawe is about to leave one of the most fascinating and unusual jobs in the city.

Brighton & Hove’s museum collections include archaeology, geology, local and social history, decorative arts, fine art, fashion and textiles, natural sciences, toys, world art, musical instruments and media.

Janita is retiring at the end of September after more than 34 years working for the Royal Pavilion & Museums, 14 as Head of Service.

Over the last three decades Janita has been involved with clearing up after the Great Storm of 1987, the £10 million redevelopment of Brighton Museum at the turn of the millennium, exhibitions, marketing, fundraising and other areas of the service’s work.

More recently she supported the creation of new archaeology, ‘spotlight’ and world art galleries, the restoration of the saloon in the Royal Pavilion and the return on loan by H.M. The Queen of some of the most magnificent objects which were in the Royal Pavilion when it was a royal palace.

Janita also introduced a workforce development project, supported by an Arts Council England grant, which provides opportunities for front-line staff to undertake other roles to share and learn skills. The ground-breaking scheme was recognised by the Festival of Learning in 2017.

She has championed the role of the service in sharing expertise. Brighton & Hove’s museums host the Arts Council funded South East museums development programme. Janita was a Museums Associations representative for the South East and has been involved in national museum sector networks including the Civic Museums Network and Women Leaders Network.

Brighton & Hove’s Royal Pavilion & Museums will transfer to the Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust from 1 October. Janita has led the service towards forming this charitable trust to ensure its sustainable future.

Amidst all this activity it is the people that Janita will remember most: “I will miss seeing the fantastic work my colleagues do; my job as Head of Service has really been to enable them to deliver services including developing programmes to meet audience needs and the care of sites and collections.

“There is far more to be done by all of us to understand and bring to light untold stories, but I’m really proud of what staff in Brighton & Hove are doing to provide space for different voices, make collections more accessible and involve communities in curating exhibitions.”

Telling different stories has been an important focus in recent years and the resulting exhibitions have proved popular. They include highlighting the role of the Royal Pavilion as a hospital for Indian soldiers during World War 1 and the lives of trans people in the exhibition Museum of Transology.

Involving young people with museums has been a passion from the start. Janita introduced pre-school education sessions at Brighton Museum, encouraging a new generation to engage with museums. These sessions now take place across the other museum sites. She also set up the schools’ role play sessions at Preston Manor which is highly valued amongst the region’s primary schools.

 

Janita said: “The collections are great for improving children’s learning, stimulating different ways of looking at and learning history and other subjects, thinking and developing creative skills. Museums change lives, they enable us to learn from the past to make a better future.”

So, what does the future look like?

“The big challenge for museums will be the changes that will need to be made in response to Covid-19 including adapting to new expectations from visitors, meeting the carbon neutral challenge and making sure museums continue to be relevant and of interest to all communities and reflect lived experiences,” said Janita.

“For me, walks on the Downs, and I hope to pick up on learning languages which I have forgotten. I also want to use my experience to help other heritage organisations with their future challenges to ensure that museums are environmentally sustainable and respond to audience needs and interests.”

Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council Phélim Mac Cafferty said: “Janita has made a tremendous contribution – a lifetime’s work – to the museums service over many years, leaving it in a strong position to transfer to Trust and move into a new chapter.

“Her knowledge and perseverance have helped place our city’s jewel in the crown, the Royal Pavilion, on the map as an outstanding visitor attraction with an historic collection of international importance, while ensuring our museums continue to help enliven our city’s story. She will be terribly missed. I imagine I am among very many in the city who will want to wish her a long and enjoyable retirement.”

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