This interview is part of a series chatting with local business owners, artists, organizers and people in our community who are learning to adapt during COVID-19.
Melissa Wakeling – Glanmore National Historic Site
Describe your business.
Glanmore National Historic Site is a restored Victorian mansion – a historic house and community museum operated by the City of Belleville’s Department of Recreation, Culture and Community Services. The museum is open year round and receives several thousand local and tourist visitors each year. We offer a variety of programs, exhibits and events throughout the year.
What does working from home/your workplace look like for you right now?
I’ve set up a small home office in my finished basement which allows me to work
without disrupting most of the household. The biggest challenge I have in my
home office is the lack of natural daylight. There are no windows – some days I
have no idea what the weather is like until supper time!
I am often joined by a big fluffy cat named Velma who likes to try to sit on my keyboard. Most of my coworkers are also working from home and we still have one full-time staff person working on-site at the museum. We have a really great and supportive team. There is a lot of messaging back and forth as well many video conference calls.
I have a big adjustment ahead of me as I work to switch on-site, in-person programming to virtual experiences and plan for small-group experiences when we are able to host them on site once more.
How have you adapted your operations during the pandemic?
I am finding ways to reach and engage the public with our collections and exhibits from home. I started by posing a question to our social media followers to find out what they wanted from Glanmore. That was really helpful in guiding our approach. It is important to be responsive and sensitive to community needs and understand that they may change as the impact of the pandemic progresses.
A lot of people wanted distraction from the chaos, especially in the first few weeks, as well as opportunities to learn about the museum and artifacts. Glanmore already had some digital and virtual museum assets such as the Matterport 3-D virtual tour of the historic building, and many artifact spotlights on our YouTube channel. We filmed some new videos and our Exhibit Development Coordinator, Danielle McMahon-Jones, has created some new virtual mini exhibits on Facebook and Instagram.
Now it is a matter of promoting and highlighting those pieces through our digital channels while developing even more virtual experiences. A blog post on our website shows all the different ways you can enjoy Glanmore’s #MuseumFromHome content including the virtual tours and exhibits, zoom backgrounds, online jigsaw puzzles, etc.
The idea of “Flattie Hattie,” our version of a Flat Stanley (a paper cut out that travels around the country and sends updates to school children about their adventures), came out of a team brainstorming session just before we started working from home. Flattie Hattie is basically a paper doll made from an 1880s fashion illustration. While our building is closed she roams the historic house highlighting different rooms and artifacts and I share her adventures on social media. Now that I have some of those things in place I can start to develop live stream content, more videos as well as some virtual field trips for the next school year.
How have you been supported by the community?
I’ve had so many messages on social media thanking me for our social and
virtual content. This has been really encouraging to me to keep on creating more
content. Many have said that Glanmore will be one of the places they will be sure
visit when we are all able to go out into the community once more.
The response to the adventures of Flattie Hattie has been very positive as well.
Some people have told me that they look forward to her posts and that she is
often the highlight of their day! It is amazing to think that I have helped someone
get through another day during a time there is so much disruption and many
people are struggling. I’m pretty sure Flattie Hattie will stick around for a long
time. We always wanted a museum mascot, and maybe we finally found one.
While we are closed we are using the many positive comments and messages [from the community] plus our social media statistics as a metric for our success. Last month we had an impressive 67% engagement rate on Facebook! The industry standard for museums /not-for-profits is just 10%.
The high level of interest and support shown is a great reminder that although
cultural and heritage activities may not be classified as “essential” during times of crisis, it is certainly something that is vital to people’s well-being.
What is something good that has come from this difficult situation?
I like to think that this situation is full of opportunity. We get a chance to evaluate
and reboot our services. It is an opportunity for things you thought would
never work or didn’t have time to deal with to suddenly be possible. It is a great
time for creativity to flourish. We have seen that in the way small businesses
have shifted quickly to restaurant takeout and virtual marketplaces. The museum is no different; we are finding creative ways to continue to serve the
What advice do you have for other business owners/organizers/artists/etc at this time?
Don’t be afraid to try something new, think outside the box, be silly, be creative
and do something unexpected. This is a time for us to experiment with new ways
of doing things. This is not the time for perfection; we can always refine things
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I really look forward to the day that I can see you all in person at Glanmore. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on social media! You will find us on Facebook,
Instagram, and Twitter @GlanmoreNHS .
Stay tuned as we share more local folks who are Makin’ It Work, and check out our weekly interviews (of the same name) every Friday on Instagram Live.