A Level Geography
Paper 2: Human geography
Section B: Answer one of the following essay questions in no more than 800 words.
Q1) Assess the extent to which counter-urbanisation leads to social and economic change.
Q2) Describe how obstacles, barriers and distance may influence the volume of internal migration.
Q3) With reference to a case study you have researched, explain how a civic museum can be updated to survive in the era of austerity.
Q4) ‘For local communities in areas of conflict, sustainability can create more problems than it solves.’ Discuss.
Q3) The Museum of St Albans used to be housed in a bespoke late Victorian building with draughty galleries across several levels. Not quite close enough to the city centre, it was easily overlooked by visitors heading to the more famous Abbey and Roman sites. I went once as a schoolchild and once as an adult. It didn't zing, but was properly packed out with local Hertfordshire stuff. Alas, survival was not assured.
The city council duly closed the museum in 2015, and opened up a new museum this summer. The St Albans Museum and Gallery is based in the old courthouse, part of the Georgian Town Hall, in a prime spot looking out over the Market Place. Basically you can't miss it, which is the perfect way to maximise footfall.
Walk in through the front door and you find neither a museum nor a gallery. To the left is a rather large giftshop, and to the right a rather large cafe. Specifically it's the kitchen and servery, fronted by a long counter and details of the day's £7.95 lunch specials. The clever part is where you go to sit down, which is the old courtroom. Previously it was open to the public but empty and bereft, but now it's buzzing with ladies chatting over coffee, and therefore economically relevant.
Sorry, did you miss the museum bit? The city's 2000-year story is told across two display cases in the downstairs lobby, from Celtic settlement to commuter bolthole via Boudicca, Yorkists and the Ryder Cup. In case that's insufficient, the upstairs landing features a mere 15 items selected from the civic archives, including Jim Rodford's guitar, Eric Morecambe's pipe and Arthur the (stuffed) Lion. St Albans' Roman treasures are held in a separate building 20 minutes walk away, and well worth a look. But of the post-Roman ephemera once displayed proudly in bulk, there's pretty much nothing.
Thankfully this is a Gallery as well as a Museum, and the greater amount of space has been given over to art. The first floor gallery is accessed via a scenic corridor, and the basement gallery isn't. I accidentally visited the day after one exhibition closed, and a week before the other opened, so saw none of it. Check your dates carefully. That said, opening next weekend is the splendid board games exhibition first shown at the V&A in Bethnal Green, and I've seen that, and it was splendid.
In the cellar downstairs is an unexpected treat, the courtroom's cells. Around a wood-panelled corner you suddenly enter a maze of brick passages, some of whose doors open to reveal atmospherically lit chambers, and others of which have been converted into individual toilet facilities. Track down the one that plays the historical video, and also the set of steps that emerges in the dock of the courtroom/tearoom above. Elsewhere don't miss the Assembly Room, a lavish high-ceilinged space in pride of place on the upper level, although all you'll find inside are a few activity tables for younger visitors. It'd make a fabulous setting for a wedding, conference or craft fair, thereby bringing in crucial revenue, which is why it has to be virtually empty all the rest of the time.
In conclusion, to create a modern museum you grab a lottery grant and relocate to the centre of the city. You go big on the cafe but minimal on actual exhibits. You prioritise the gift shop. You bring in regular exhibitions to create repeat footfall. You close the previous Tourist Information Centre by putting some leaflets by the lifts. You ensure that one large historic room is available for hire. You encourage the general public to nip in and use the toilets. And it looks brilliant, and it's so well done, and shoppers like it, but it isn't a museum.
This is a competent response, detailing many of the intrinsic factors in the development of a new city museum, but is written in an over-familiar style, fails to use appropriate vocabulary and omits the key fact that the original museum was sold off for housing.
A stronger answer would have outlined the decision-making process from a systems-based viewpoint, explored fiscal integration in greater depth and argued the case both for and against a heritage-led resource management scenario. Also the cakes are quite nice, and this is not referenced.