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Leslie Kelling

Leslie Kelling Project Coordinator

Be Inspired Series

Sue Cathcart

Treasure House Officer
National Museums Northern Ireland

‘It is incredibly important to listen to older people and acknowledge their experience,’ says Sue.

What does your job entail?

As the Treasure House officer for the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, I deliver a creative lifelong learning programme for older people who are clients of the Clanmil Housing organisation.

The programme is inspired by the museums’ collections which are very diverse, everything from our 2,500 year old Egyptian mummy Takabuti to St Bridget!

I organise a monthly activity for each group. The activities are always social and creative and often draw on the participants’ own experiences and knowledge of life.

Being able to use the museums as the basis for the programme is wonderful. ‘Treasure House’ is such an appropriate name for the project: the museums are treasure houses containing many fascinating objects, some of them visually stunning and others reflecting everyday life from long ago but all of them have stories attached to them and all these stories hold relevance.

I try and source objects from the collections to show the groups that are relevant but also thought provoking, that encourage reflection and thinking about their own experiences and the fact that we are all ‘treasure houses’ of stories.

Is it 9-5?

Yes - more or less, I work from Tuesday to Fridays from 9am-5pm.

How did you get into this line of work?

I have always loved making things and looking at things from the past that other people have made. To hold a party dress from the 1960’s that someone has sewn or a quilt from the 1800’s that a group of women worked together is to connect directly with history.

So I love the museums and jumped at the chance to work there initially with the Live and Learn programme which is an outreach programme for older people, again organising creative programmes for groups based on the museum collections. I loved doing this and when Treasure House came along it seemed like a natural progression.

Outline your career to date.

I did all sorts of different jobs from working in retail to the civil service but I always made things and painted.

After my son was born I secured a LEDU grant and set myself up as an artist designer. This then morphed into teaching and then I retrained as a literacy teacher at Queen’s and worked for the WEA for many years, teaching literacy and creative courses to adults.

I then worked for Live and Learn for three years before moving to Treasure House some months ago.

Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I graduated in English at Lancaster and then a higher diploma in administration and secretarial skills at the college of business studies here. I then retrained at Queen’s and completed the certificate and diploma in teaching literacy and life long learning.

What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

My job requires organisation as well as flexibility. It is also important to enjoy talking to people, have a good sense of humour and not take yourself too seriously.

I have done some very strange things from dancing a jig to making butter in a mayonnaise jar!

I have had the best fun working with groups but have also been very moved when people speak about harrowing and difficult episodes in their lives. It is incredibly important to listen to older people and acknowledge their experience.

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

The biggest challenges are the logistical and physical ones. The biggest rewards are in getting somebody who maybe has not been out of their house for many years to come to a museum and be reinvigorated and empowered to try something different.

One nice thing is hearing from the Clanmil supervisor that the group have been chatting about the trip for weeks afterwards and how much they enjoyed it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have made things continually all my life and am a self-confessed ‘craftaholic’. I am a member of Spacecraft and produce a range of products based on a character called Mr Papers made out of the Belfast Telegraph.

I do the collaging of the pictures and some of the writing and then an anonymous partner does the rest.

Mr Papers is proving to be very successful and is available in all good shops including the Ulster Museum.

The easiest way to describe him is that he is a humorous Belfast rabbit and was originally based on my dad. Mr Papers is having a one man show for the month of November in Spacecraft.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I kicked Prince Charles, I was only 18-months-old though! My mum was visiting my grandad who was a teacher at Prince Charles’s school. I was having a tantrum and Prince Charles was passing by, attempted to assist and I gave him a kick. I hope I would behave a bit better if I met him now!

Who has inspired you most in your life?

Recently, I met two 90-year-old Clanmil ladies at the Ulster Museum who were very inspirational, they were full of enthusiasm, life and humour and I came away thinking, I want to be like that when I’m 90 - in fact, I want to be like that now!

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