The purpose of this trip was to draw comparisons between two historically similar mining regions, Limburg, Germany and South Wales, and how we as museums present and preserve this vital history for future generations. This visit allowed us to mutually share skills, expertise and experiences in how we currently present this significant history to the public and what strategies we have to continue to preserve our heritage going forward.
While also on the visit I aimed to look into their marketing practices and how they engage themselves with their local community as well as the wider area and its tourism offer. This is something we work hard on within our own museum and it will be interesting to gather experience of different methods of practice. As well as their marketing and community engagement practices, I would also look to observe any of their practices and strategies on any specific education programmes that they run alongside local schools and universities, for example.
Simone (Curator) of the Nederlands Mijnmuseum introduced me to her colleagues and volunteers and proceeded to show me around their museum for me to see their collection on display. This was interesting as the museum was smaller than I had anticipated, their display space being roughly the same size as ours, this provided me with a great comparison between how their space is used compared to ours.
We then took a walk around the city centre while Simone explained to me the history of the mining industry of the city and region. Simone then had a meeting at the local Roman Baths museum but took me along to introduce me to the staff who work closely alongside the Mijnmuseum. I then explored this museum to gather how more ‘professional’ museums operate in the city. Following this we headed back to the Mijnmuseum, passing a vast department store that was originally built to provide the local miners with all the equipment they needed, where we met two ladies from a local community group organising a schools activity visit to the Mijnmuseum. I explained to Simone and the ladies that what they were doing was very similar to what we do here in Ponty when we have school groups visit us, i.e. quizzes that get the children to view the displays and read the provided information. They were very pleased with this as this was a new project for both them and the Mijnmuseum itself.
Wednesday morning I took the train to the next town over from Heerlen which was Kerkrade where I met Simone and we cycled to another old mine in Kerkrade that was unique in that it had a circular shaft. I was introduced to all the volunteers who run it, who were working very hard in turning it into a mining museum. Interestingly, they took me to the upper rooms of the museum where they had previously hired to room out as a flat to a local artist but now have developed it into a nice study/meeting area that they hope to hire out, like we do with our basement rooms at Pontypridd.
We then cycled around the town while Simone explained some more of the history of mining in that area and how it all began in that town, when monks from the monastery would collect coal from the nearby river. From there we visited the monastery, which is now a large conference centre, right on the German border. From here you could see the ‘coal heaps’ from the mines over in Germany which are now overgrown with forestry. Simone explained to me that in the Netherlands, the mines didn’t dump the waste deposits into large mounds as they do in Germany (and Wales), and the only one where they did is now a ski slope.
We continued to the Continium museum where Simone had arranged for us to meet an old colleague of hers named Serge, who is an expert on the history of mining and he showed us around the display and stores as well as telling me more about the mining history of the region. This museum has the largest mining collection in Limburg and along with the Mijnmuseum and the Kerkrade mineshaft, make up the entire mining collection of Limburg. Continiums collection however, was as Simone described the ‘professional collection’. This was very easy to tell as their storage and preservation equipment and standards are extremely high. I recognised a lot of their conservation techniques and explained to them that here at Pontypridd we are currently upgrading our storage conditions to a standard such as these. This was also interesting for Simone as at the Mijnmuseum they are yet to implement proper storage procedures and conditions.
On the way back to Simone's house we stopped at a new concert hall that she explained is a new ‘community hub’ which is one of the new improvements being made to the town. However, this was closed so we went to her house where her father had kindly invited me for dinner. This was good as it allowed me to ask her father about his memories of growing up in the mining region, which was very insightful.
We took the train back to Heerlen where Simone had a meeting with the Mijnmuseums Governors and wanted to introduce me to them. I sat in with them at their meeting and they asked me many questions about our museum and the history of Pontypridd and the South Wales coalfield. I provided them with some leaflets of our museum and other local heritage attractions from around the valleys. I also asked them about their work and what their future plans are for their museum. They explained to me that this was a very exciting time for them as they are very close to achieving their 2 Million Euro fund to further expand their museum. It was great to meet the governors and sit in on their meeting, not only for the discussions I had with them but also just to see how the Mijnmuseum is run from the administrative side.
Thursday I visited the city of Maastricht and looked at the places that Simone had recommended to me. It was an interesting city to visit as it doesn’t have the mining history like Heerlen but rather a large glass and ceramic industrial heritage. So this was interesting to compare with the city of Heerlen and towns like Kerkrade.
On Friday morning I met Simone at the Mijnmuseum where one of the volunteers showed me two videos about mining, one from the 1920’s and one from the 1950’s, for me to compare the differences in techniques used and attitudes towards mining. Then I got to look around the Mijnmuseums stores which I found very impressive. Like Simone had told me, their storage methods are yet to be done professionally, but what they have managed to do in such a short time was very impressive. Although they don’t have a large amount of space, they have a series of offices which each have designated objects in, paintings/photographs, ceramics etc, as well as space for volunteers to work on conservation or digitisation of the collection.
After this we walked around the office tower where the Mijnmuseums offices are for me to see some of the other companies that have office space there. This was very interesting as there are so many companies, most of them young entrepreneurial companies, that share the office block and all seem to help each other out with different projects. One of which was a film company who are currently filming a short movie based in a mine shaft and we visited their set, some of the props of which where loaned from the Mijnmuseum. Also, we visited a Virtual Reality company who are going to be working on a VR project alongside the Mijnmuseum which looks to be very interesting and will greatly help to engage visitors in the museum with the collections.
My visit to Heerlen and the Mijnmuseum gave me a great insight into how similar museums to ours operate. It was really opening just how similar the histories of our regions are in regards to mining heritage and how we strive to preserve this vital history and the challenges we face in giving the public access to their history. Moving forward we will keep in touch with the Mijnmuseum and follow each other’s progress and developments, with the possibility of collaborating on future projects and exhibitons.