Who: The Museum of English Rural Life, part of University of Reading Museums and Special Collections Services.
What: An Apple Day event has been run for the last 4 years. It has grown from an event developed as part of an environmental learning project to one of the most successful events in the Museum’s calendar.
Why: It started as information about apples, apple tasting, access to archive materials and a talk and has become a larger scale event including activities for all the family and the opportunity to engage with the latest research in the field from the National Fruit Collection.
The Museum of English Rural Life, part of the University of Reading Museums & Special Collections Services, runs a wide and varied public events programme including adult short courses, day schools and family activities.
Throughout the year, the Museum organises several large events (either half day or one day) aimed primarily at a family audience; that is a mixture of adults and children (often intergenerational) self-selected as groups or families. They are often, by their very nature, non-specialist in academic terms.
The most successful of these events is Apple Day; part of a national celebration of everything to do with English apples organised by Common Ground. The event is always scheduled for the Saturday closest to the 21st October, Apple Day. The Apple Day event gives collections and university staff the opportunity to share their research and teaching with MERL visitors (the public).
The national purpose of Apple Day is to raise awareness of English apples and orchards through events and activities organised on or around 21 October, during the apple season.
MERL’s purpose in organising an Apple Day event each year is:
- To engage with academics from the National Fruit Collection (now curated by the University of Reading) and facilitate their engagement with a non-specialist audience
- To give visitors the opportunity to engage with academics in a non-formal environment so they can discover more about specific academic research
- To raise awareness of English apples and orchards
- To raise visitor numbers by providing a fun, informative event where visitors:
- Have the opportunity to talk to archivists and see some of the archive material which isn’t usually on display (for a variety of reasons) including MAFF films, Herefordshire Pomona and meet archive staff etc
- Can enjoy tasting apples and apple products and take part in apple themed activities such as the longest peel competition and apple & spoon race!
“As researchers in the School of Biological Sciences we are responsible for the scientific curation of Defra's National Fruit Collections at Brogdale in Kent. The Museum of English Rural Life’s 'Apple Day' event was a great opportunity for us to engage with interested people from the wider local community and explain some of the research we carry out at Reading and Brogdale to develop the collections as a genetic resource.” Dr Matthew Ordidge, Research Fellow and Scientific Curator for the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale
“The Apple Day event provides a unique opportunity for MERL to show off some gems from our library and archive collections, which house a wealth of information about apple production in England that visitors rarely get the opportunity to see, such as the rare and highly sought after Herefordshire Pomona, dating from the late Victorian period. Visitors are also able to take away copies of apple recipes from the Archives to try at home which are very popular.” Caroline Gould, Deputy University Archivist
Results and outcomes
What worked well
- For our visitors, the informal nature of the event and the opportunity to talk directly to experts.
- For the academics, the opportunity to showcase their work (including material which had been shown at the Chelsea Flower Show) and talk to the public.
- For the museum, the opportunity to offer our visitors a unique, free event which capitalises on the benefits of being a university museum and the opportunities that avails.
- Additionally, the opportunity to raise money for additional events through sales of apple related produce and tickets for a prize draw
What didn’t work well
- The Chelsea stand was very large and took up a large amount of space – check and re-check space allocated!
- When visitors were surveyed about how they’d found out about the event, each form of marketing communication used was mentioned. This makes it very hard to target marketing and in a harsh financial climate, to know which forms of communication to emphasise and which to cut.
- Event budget
- Museum shop budget
- Marketing budget
- Academics/researchers (in this case, from the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale)
- Staff/volunteer time to prepare for and run events
- If possible, ‘piggy-back’ your event onto a national or regional scheme such as, Heritage Open Days; National Science & Engineering Week; International Women’s Day or Adult Learners’ Week, as this gives access to marketing materials including logos, shared marketing & pr and therefore a greater chance of public awareness and attendance.
- Start planning early, and if possible involve academics at that early stage. Have an event group who meet/email regularly to plan the event. However, make sure one person takes ownership of the event and is the ‘Event Organiser’ or things may have a tendency to ‘slip through the net’.
- When thinking of a name for your event try to make sure ‘it does what it says on the tin’, that way your visitors know what to expect and you have a greater chance of success.
Name: Ms Bekky Moran
Name of organisation: University of Reading Museums and Special Collections Services (UMASCS),
Telephone: 0118 378 8660
Making apple bird feeders with BTCV. Credit: Museum of English Rural Life
The National Fruit Collection stand at The Chelsea Flower Show, Credit: School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading