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The Future of the RAF Museum and Course Conclusion

Ross Mahoney speaks to Karen Whitting about the future of the RAF Museums.
ROSS MAHONEY: Welcome back. This week we’ve been looking at the role of commemoration and memorialisation of the RAF over its history, in particular with reference to the history of the Royal Air Force Museum here at Hendon and up at the site at Cosford. For this session, I’ve got Karen Whitting with me who is the museum’s Director of Public Programme. Karen, could you just– the centenary of the Air Force coming up in 2018, could you tell us about how the museum’s moving forward in terms of its vision and reconsideration about how it’s displaying items on offer here at the museum?
KAREN WHITTING: So the museum took an opportunity a couple of years ago to review its strategy for the next five years going past the anniversary in 2018 and looking ahead to 2022. And the conclusion that after consultation with many of our audiences and our stakeholders was that we really needed to focus on telling the story of the RAF and using the stories about collections and the stories of the people of the RAF to really connect with all of our audiences. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: What implication does that have for the collection and what might be on our wish list because of course, the museum has a wonderful collection of aircraft, but what else might be on the wish list? And also what aircraft are still missing from the collection?
KAREN WHITTING: So our first project in the RAF centenary programme was an exhibition examining the First World War in the air. And we were able to bring objects out of storage which told those personal stories– so medals, uniforms, diaries, items from the archives that people had never been able to access before. And the feedback that we’ve had about that exhibition has been extraordinary. People are finding a way into a story that they really didn’t understand through those people’s stories, and that’s something that we want to continue as we develop our new exhibitions in the coming years. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: OK. And finally, what sort of challenges does the museum face in terms of public engagement with our audiences and also different types of audiences?
KAREN WHITTING: I think it’s really important that we’re telling a story of the whole 100 years of the RAF. For many of our visitors today, the Second World War is beyond their knowledge and the experiences of their direct families. So we need to find a way of engaging them with stories from just a couple of years ago and looking over the last 30 years, over the last 50 years, and making sure that they understand that this story is relevant to them and relevant to their future. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Thank you. Thank you, Karen. Some interesting themes there about how the museum will develop in the coming years and the role it plays and the challenges that that faces and how we use the collection to tell the story of the Royal Air Force over 100 years, but also make it relevant to audiences to whom their experiences surrounds periods such as the Cold War, which of course has been the key theme for this course that you’ve all been enjoying.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Thank you very much. We’re delighted that you’ve stuck with us for the past six weeks. This is the very end of the course. Ross, if we’re going to consider how to sum up the RAF from all of the things we’ve covered in a phrase or word, what would it be? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: I think that in an era of changing geostrategic and a changing geostrategic environment, the RAF during the Cold War is both agile and adaptable. And I think that’s something that the students should really think about.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Excellent, Ross. Thank you very much. I’d like to thank Dr. Ross Mahoney, the Aviation Historian here at RAF Museum Hendon for all of his contributions to this particular course. My name is Emmett Sullivan, and from all of those involved with this particular free online course, at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the RAF museums both at Cosford and Hendon, we’re going to sign off now. Thank you, and goodbye.

In this very final step we consider the following questions:

  1. Within the Hendon site, the buildings are not bespoke to the exhibitions as they are designated. With the centenary of the RAF coming, will there be a reconsideration of how the collection is displayed and organised?
  2. We saw at RAF Cosford the work of the conservation centre. Which new exhibits are being prepared?
  3. With respect to public engagement, what challenges do you consider the RAF museums will have to deal with in the future?

We then ended on a goodbye. Which was the last thing we filmed. And we could not get right. So we decided to wish you “GOODBYE” briefly. Thank you so much for staying with us for the six weeks of the course.

This is the final step of the course, so please complete the post course survey (which can be found here to let us know what you thought of the course and how it can be improved for next time.

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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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