Throughout my lengthy career, which includes twenty-seven years with Marconi, I think my greatest assets have been logic and common sense.
What the Museum and Chelmsford City Council have done at Sandford Mill displays neither of these attributes.
Worse still, the council has not exhibited even the slightest understanding of the human factors involved. It has written to volunteers and effectively stated that the museum has no further need of their technical skills and experience and ordering them to remove anything not specifically owned by the Museum. Had the volunteers been employees, an employment tribunal might have taken a very dim view of the council’s behaviour.
It is nothing short of incredible that nobody at the Museum or the council had the decency to have prior discussions with volunteers, people who have invested thousands of hours of their time, not to mention money, for the benefit of future generations and the preservation of Marconi’s Chelmsford heritage. Had that discussion taken place, I have little doubt that some compromise could have been reached, satisfying both the accreditation rules and the need to preserve the Sandford Mill exhibit even if it had to be at a new location.
I guess I was somewhat naïve to think that a letter to Cllr Robinson (unanswered) might lead to a rethink but was nevertheless pleased to meet with Marc De’ath to see if the situation might be reconsidered. Although Marc has indicated a willingness to have further discussion, there will be no prior agreement on the final objective and the council has demanded that Sandford Mill must be cleared by the end of July, and before it is even willing to begin discussions. The most charitable observer would be forgiven for being suspicious that there will then be no motivation for the council to discuss in good faith.
Most sadly of all, I am getting the message from the volunteers that their relationship with the council may already be soured beyond repair, and that they no longer have any wish to interact with an organisation that has so little respect for them and their work.
Throughout this process those who know better than me have consistently objected to the council’s interpretation of the accreditation requirements. Particularly, equipment can be inventoried without destroying the collection, maintenance of working exhibits is done by many museums, and the suggestion that the volunteers lack the expertise to properly handle these objects is emblematic of the council’s disregard for their efforts and their expertise. The council has made no response.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask a question at the cabinet meeting on 13 July and to try to listen to Cllr Goldman’s comments at the full council meeting on 21 July. Though the audio quality was so poor that I could have missed a significant statement – perhaps a volunteer engineer could have assisted – I have been assured the discussion covered no new ground. This was my first experience of local politics and made me realise that my communication skills do not include the ability to give a full statement that totally ignores the original question.
It was also a first to be interviewed on local radio. I thank Oliver Rogers for the opportunity to be heard on Chelmsford Community Radio and I was also pleased to be supported by Phil Rhodes, a freelance film and television technology journalist and son of one of the Marconi volunteers.
As they say on Dragons’ Den, “I’m out,” unless someone can persuade me that the council has a clear desire to find a solution that might persuade the volunteers that there is a good reason to re-engage.
Chairman, Marconi Veterans’ Association