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Rise, Vintage Cards and Me

As a first-generation student, I came to university with hopes for a brighter and more fulfilling future for myself and my family. With such supportive staff and intricate industry connections that I never would have had beforehand, MMU provided an amazing environment where I felt I could truly flourish.

Unfortunately, lockdowns interrupted my first and second year, and opportunities for work experience fell away as institutions cancelled programmes and cultural assets lost massive amounts of funding. It felt like all of my plans and dreams for University life had ground to a halt.

The lack of opportunity and direction was coupled with a more insidious nagging sense of being ‘left behind’ by the pandemic, with all of the anxiety and powerlessness that implies.

But I wasn’t powerless; I turned to the RISE programme.

Despite being confined to home; I could choose to engage with all sorts of enhancement activities and opportunities. My journey with RISE has been driven by a desire to find passion and purpose. I started university, likely similar to most of you, with little to no idea of where exactly I wanted my career to go. This didn’t matter; I took advantage of a wide variety of extracurricular activities available with the intention of finding ‘what stuck’ – and then going deeper through to the 100-hour internship and research project schemes.

I found a sense of belonging, and my ‘lightbulb moment’ through engaging the public with exhibitions and cultural artefacts. I had the privilege of securing two separate internship opportunities within the heritage sector. The first saw me working with The Museum of Half Truths to support public responses to exhibitions of Helen Cammock and Jasleen Kaur’s work. The second, which I am completing as I write this article, connected me with an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project co-curating the Laura Seddon collection, one of the largest collections of Victorian and Edwardian greeting cards, with MMU’s Special Collections Museum.

Through these experiences, I have collaborated with other students from various departments, with external organisations such as the Touchstone Gallery in Rochdale, and with experts and facilities like the Poetry Library at Manchester Met – often using tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Miro to allow flexible collaboration.

Both placements have allowed me to deliver opportunities for diverse people across Greater Manchester to engage intellectually and creatively with various cultural assets. At Touchstones, I worked with other students to produce visitor engagement workshops based on the exhibitions for their closing weekend. I have produced my own digital research response to the Laura Seddon collection, co-curated a physical exhibition and co-designed supplement workshops at the Poetry Library – and assisted at a Death Café-style event using vintage crafting materials for visitors to create their own Victorian-inspired cards.

There are many layers to the benefits of working with RISE. Finding purpose and forging my career goals has been important. The carefully curated opportunities put together for the RISE programme eliminated any anxieties around looking in the wrong places and allowed flexibility around my studies which means I never lost sight of my degree whilst gaining valuable experiences alongside it.

I am aware of just how competitive the museum and culture sectors are and am extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve taken, and truly feel that I now understand what I am personally passionate about. As I move into paid work and postgraduate education, these opportunities will enhance any applications and assist in helping me stand out as a candidate. From visitor engagement to gaining skills handling fragile historical materials to assisting with the installation of exhibitions and running of events, I feel that RISE has given me a really strong start in my career.

The engagement has also supported my wellbeing. Expanding my skillset and constantly learning is incredibly important to me, and RISE provided that opportunity during the restrictions of lockdown. It has also nurtured that sense of university community which was lacking whilst off campus.

Any current or prospective students that may be interested in RISE, I cannot recommend the programme enough. I can’t think of anything elsewhere that equates to what RISE has to offer, it is a genuinely unique pioneer in student enhancement and employability. Don’t be afraid of trying new things and opportunities that feel irrelevant to your degree, the sense of community and transferable skills you will gain are always worth it. Make sure to check the website regularly, as it always feels like there’s something new to try out when working with RISE.

Chloe Burke