The theme of the 2017 Museums Association Conference was “Museums Change Lives”. A bold statement, but does it ring true? The sceptical side of me raised an eyebrow…..

I have often had conversations with colleagues and friends after coming back from conferences where we are wracked with guilt for not being as fabulous as all the wonderful speakers that we have seen. Oh the shame!  Then there is denial: “they must have a huge budget, which we don’t have” or “well, if I had a team of their size, I could also be that successful”.

This is how I was beginning to feel as I walked towards the Manchester Central Conference Venue on 16 November 2017, gearing up for two days of intense museum fun at the Museums Association Conference, with the theme of Museums Change Lives. But how wrong I could be.

Throughout the two days, I attended sessions, which outlined the wonderful projects that museums across the UK, and beyond, have undertaken that impact the public in a positive way, from Volunteering for Wellbeing at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, to the impact of Music Therapy and art at the Whitworth. It seems that these museums really do change lives….

On the long return train journey back to Cambridge from Manchester, I was preparing for the normal “professional shame”. It wasn’t until a few days later, after a weekend of reflection and a Monday morning of clearing emails, that I realised that the “shame” never arrived!

The conference showed me that the subject was not a sensationalised pipe-dream or just a title created so that museum professionals can stand upon their soapboxes pontificating about their work. We are all changing people’s lives in many different ways, and we should all be proud of this.

Yes, there are the obviously inspirational projects that the University of Cambridge Museums undertake, such as Portals to the World and Dancing in the Museum, but what about the smaller things? Stopping to say “hello” and “thank you” to a volunteer, or taking on a work experience student to potentially set them on a pathway to discovering their passion for museums and heritage? These all count in the grand scheme of things.

And what about museums changing our lives? I am confident in saying that working within the museum and heritage sector has changed my life for the better, simply by exposing me to the wealth of inspirational people who show me how much good there is in what we do.

The fact that I wasn’t engulfed in “professional shame” shows me that the delegates and speakers at the conference were not there presenting “best practice”, thus suggesting that other ways of working are wrong; instead they were sharing “good practice”, encouraging us all to learn from each other.

Find out more about the 2018 Museums Association Conference in Belfast.