Jenny Cousins has been the director of the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket for just six months, but already has big plans for its future as the award-winning museum approaches its 50th anniversary.
In between settling in to her new job, getting to know the museum (a 75 acre site, with 20 historic buildings, 40,000 objects and 120 volunteers and staff) and planning the venue’s birthday party, Jenny took time out to speak to us about her new life in Suffolk.
Did you know Suffolk very well before starting work at the museum, or are you new to the county?
I’d come on holiday to Southwold once to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday, exactly 10 years ago this year! And then I got to know the county better in the job I did before coming here; working on the redevelopment of the American Air Museum at IWM Duxford. I’ve been saying to people that my internal map of the county is 70 years out of date – I know where all the American airfields once were!
You have joined the Museum of East Anglian Life as it turns 50 years old, how will you and your team be celebrating this significant anniversary?
We are having a birthday party in the summer in the style of the fetes that used to be held at Abbot’s Hall before it was a museum. It’s on 23rd July and kids go free. There will be fancy dress, a competition to bake the museum a spectacular cake, and traditional stalls and activities.
We are also having two temporary exhibitions, funded by the BIG Lottery Fund. The first is about what goes on behind the scenes at the museum and the people who volunteer here. It’s called ‘Snapshot: the Museum at 50’. The other is ‘Fabric, Fields and French Knots: Celebrating East Anglia in Stitch’ and has been created by members of local Embroiderer’s Guild and is inspired by the museum and our collections.
What plans do you have to develop the museum and what are your priorities?
At the top of my list is to create an exciting new attraction at the heart of the site. We will be fundraising this year to create a Heritage Farm which will put the story of agriculture at the centre of the museum.
We want to reintroduce working heavy horses and create an orchard, an animal-handling education centre, and demonstration crops to help people to understand the journey their food takes from field to fork. We have lots of exciting plans around restoration and renewal, but they all cost money and time, so we will be having a big fundraising push. We have a fantastic group of volunteers who bring the museum alive, but we are always looking for more people to get involved.
Now you’ve had time to settle in to working at the museum, what do you enjoy most about the place?
It’s gone by so fast that I can hardly believe it’s six months today. I really like it. It’s got a lovely atmosphere and it’s such a beautiful site. It’s hard to believe that it’s in the middle of a town because it is so peaceful.
I love the tranquil little Fishing Lodge in the middle of the lake, and all the workshops showing you how crafts were done, from basketry to printing. Our team of print volunteers are brilliant. They have made a special edition anniversary bag on the press to commemorate the museum’s birthday.
Have you decided on any favourite spots in the Heart of Suffolk yet?
I think the museum’s café, the Osier, is the best venue in Stowmarket! The corned beef hash is amazing!
The Stowmarket Tourist Information Centre also reached a significant milestone last year: ten years in their current location at the museum…
We were all involved in the launch of the Stowmarket Walking Festival recently. I went along on the inaugural walk around the town and I learned so much. The whole event had such a friendly tone and you could tell people really love the place.
The museum is open for its 50th season on Saturday, 25th March.
Museum of East Anglian Life, lliffe Way, Stowmarket IP14 1DL | T: 01449 612229 | W: eastanglianlife.org.uk
Top image © Jeff Gilbert