Museums + Heritage Awards Winner – Project on a Limited Budget

In 2012, our Museum held a Volunteer-led initiative, the Board of Trustees voted for a Tearoom and Gift Shop Makeover with a view to increasing revenue. A design was settled upon, one which we felt would resonate with all ages, and linked in with the Museum’s heritage and provenance. The overall budget was set at £1,500.

A Volunteer initiative followed, as our veritable ‘Army’ have wide-ranging skills… A cosy and appetite whetting colour scheme of raspberry and pistachio was chosen and a team set out to paint the scene. The Character of the ‘Hatter’ was charmingly painted ‘Trompe l’oeuil’ over the fireplace. An old discarded table was transformed into a giant chessboard with chess pieces to amuse children whilst their parents chatted over tea. Two volunteers who are cameras experts curated a Tearoom Exhibition of antique cameras that had been donated over the years and added their provenance for customers to peruse. Maxi-length Aprons were designed, and made up from linen that came from the dressmaking family to Queen Victoria’s Osborne House. These were embroidered with a Top Hat, to keep the theme. Victorian High Tea’s crept onto the menu, and Volunteer’s aided the young kitchen staff in the art of baking the perfect scone!

Mis-matched fine china was donated, and cake stands a-plenty crept in. Over to the shop, and it was relocated into a larger space, and furnished with volunteer donated display items and antiques. Volunteer’s made a Steam-punk’ jewelry-line and Lewis Carroll themed greetings cards depicting the characters of the ‘Freshwater Circle’ who were contemporaries of mid-Victorian pioneering Photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron- the Museum’s raison d’etre. A new shop branding and logo was designed in keeping with the ‘New Look’. Once the work was finished, a second initiative came into place. At low-season, when historically the Museum was closed, and entirely staffed by volunteers we opened our doors as a test to see how the project was effective. We were happy to report that takings were not only up, but akin to those for high-season in July and August! Since the works have been completed, we have received some lovely reviews, both in-house in our comments book, on-line on Island eaterie reviews, and local press. The Camera collection exhibition made the front page of the Island’s ‘County Press’.

Jump-started by the clearer identity of offering, local suppliers have produced ‘themed’ product in tune with Julia Margaret Cameron’s fascinating back-ground. Local Chocolatier’s have created a JMC ‘Chocolat Chaud’ and delicious Mango dipped in chilli chocolate. Similarly a spice company have produced a range of Indian/French and English blended herbs and spices for Dimbola. The story is told further by a pair of exhibitions that are on show for the summer. ‘What use is a book, without pictures or conversation?’ is part one. Depicting the illustrators of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ over 150 years, and a rare collection of first edition books, we introduce the relevance of Lewis Carroll to the House. In part two- opening on 30th June, we explain the characterisations in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and their own counterparts in Julia Margaret Cameron and the Freshwater Circle. Our project has successfully enthused a talented and skillful team, whose dedication and greatly valued work over the years is truly amazing. We are very proud to have won this Museums and Heritage award- which goes some way to thanking the volunteers all for their hard-work, and the esteem with which we hold them!