Museum Welcomes New Director

The River & Rowing Museum hosted summer drinks for specially invited guests to welcome Director, Steve O’Connor (pictured right) on Thursday night.

The Museum reopened on 1 July after 9 months following roof renovations and refurbishment and is currently open 7 days a week for the summer holidays. Steve was announced as the new Director 6 months ago and started the role on Monday.  Steve was former CEO and Founder of Fulham Reach Boat Club.

Chair of the Museum Trustees, David Worthington (pictured left) said, “We closed for a new roof but in fact what we ended up doing was redoing the Kirkham gallery, building five new offices (in the old Education building), produced a master plan, updated mechanical and electrical systems, installed a new lift, fitted out a new shop, the cafe has been refitted, new security and access systems, new children’s area, new graphics, new information systems and migrated our systems to the cloud and upgraded the finance system. Our collection project continues and is now up to 30,000 objects and the Henley Gallery will be our next project. So it’s not just been the roof and when you say why haven’t you done that, we just haven’t got to it yet! We’re on a journey. It’s been massive team effort. David went on to thank individual contractors, members of staff and volunteers. Talking about the graphics David added, “It’s long been said that people didn’t know that this was a museum or what was inside the building so we now have a 10 foot high Museum word so that criticism will not be levelled any longer.”

The Museum will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in November. Queen Elizabeth II opened the Museum on 6 November 1998. David commented, “The beginning of our 25th year starts in November and will be setting up an event in September, that will kick off a year where we will commit and continue a lot of things that we have started and there will be fundraising to raise lots of money as we have spent a lot of money from the Endowment on the recent works.”

Steve said, “It’s a real pleasure to be here. It’s fantastic that everyone has come out to say hello and I really do appreciate it. I just wanted to echo some of David’s words by saying a huge thank you to Paul and all the team for the incredible work that has gone to get the museum open again. It’s only Day 3 for me in the job. I’m still in that glorious stage that I don’t know anything and I’m not expected to but in reality I was announced 6 months ago as the new Director so I’ve been working with the team to really start to map the way forward for the next phase of the museum.”

Initially people congratulated me on the role but then followed it up with this sentence – Museum great opportunity, big challenge. It is a big challenge and there is no secret about that, we all know the challenge we face and ultimately we have to become financially sustainable. It is challenge that affects a huge number of museums and charities particularly in the current climate.”

“Over the past 6 months in the conversations we have been having there are 4 themes have been coming out that I think we can build on to meet that challenge. First we need to get back into the centre of the community. We need help all the Henley events, community groups, the Business Partnership etc and we also need to get the residents to feel that it is their museum. Secondly we need to re-imagine the galleries; sport of rowing, the river and the history of Henley but I think it is about time to re-imagine what stories we are telling and giving equal weight to all three of those areas. I’ve got a particularly interest in technology and digitisation and can we provide attractive stories that will give our visitors something new to think about. Thirdly, the river; there is a very live debate about the health of our river, climate change, ecology and we like organisations like River Action and the Henley Mermaids we hold the moral high ground on that debate and we should be in the area that can host debate and hold those organisations to account. I firmly believe the Museum has a huge part to play in that story. Fourthly, fundamentally we are an education charity. I believe we will have a world-leading educational offer. In the last 7 weeks we have taught 800 students about the river and the feedback we’re getting is unbelievable. We’ve already got a forward plan in place to renovate the outdoor classroom but also to look at a mobile classroom to go to schools. The educational part will be a key part going forward. The next 25 years are being rosy.”

James Wallace, CEO of River Action said, “We at River Action, the Henley Mermaids and local citizen scientist Dave Wallace are thrilled to see the appointment of Steve and we’re very grateful to him for naming the challenge that the river faces and the users of it relating to river pollution in his inaugural speech.  We very much look forward to working with the River & Rowing Museum helping to clear up the river with the community.”

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