In November 2013, following an application submitted by the Museum’s Curatorial Manager, Southend Museums received a generous grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The charity itself has been providing funding to the Arts sector since 1961 and the grant received was provided for the purpose of installing a display and instigating a community engagement project based around excavations of the London shipwreck.
As the repository museum, all finds from the London were to be given to Southend Museums to conserve, store and keep. With the Esmée Fairbairn funding, the museum was able to ensure full, remedial conservation on the most significant finds (undertaken by English Heritage); install a new, permanent display at Central Museum; produce a publication about the London to be made available to the public; and develop and install a brand-new touch-screen interactive feature to enable visitors to learn more about the wreck and its history.
One of the most exciting things that this funding enabled the museum to achieve was the development of a community engagement project that provided members of the public the opportunity to become fully involved in the project and the post-excavation phases. Local people were recruited as Voluntary Finds Assistants for the project and were provided with full training on the basics of Marine Archaeology by the Nautical Archaeology Society. Staff at Southend Museums also provided them with training on preventive and ‘first-aid’ conservation of marine finds; archaeological storage to conservation-grade standards; and display and installation of marine archaeology.
Volunteers then participated during the final phase of excavation in 2014 by assisting with post-excavation finds sorting, first-aid conservation, transfer, storage, research and display of the finds. Much of these activities took place at a special ‘finds centre’ at the end of Southend Pier, in full view of the visiting public, where the divers delivered the objects that they had found to the end of the pier, via boat from the excavation site.
In addition to all of this, a local photographer volunteered to visually document the entire project from start to finish, with images going on display for a dedicated exhibition at the Beecroft Art Gallery.