International Women’s Day

March 8th 2024

On International Women’s Day today (Friday, 8th March 2024), we asked the museum’s Chief Executive Rhiannon Hiles, Chief Operating Officer Samantha Shotton and Vice-Chair Dr Elouise Leonard-Cross about International Women’s Day and also being female leaders at the museum, which is the region’s most visited attraction, with 450 staff and 400 volunteers.

To mark International Women’s Day, Beamish is sharing the stories of the roles of women across the time periods around the museum. Find out more about our International Women’s Day event, which runs from 8th to 10th March 2024.

Rhiannon Hiles, Chief Executive, Beamish Museum

Rhiannon Hiles, Chief Executive of Beamish Museum.

“This year on International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th, the UN is focusing on investment in women and accelerating progress, using #InvestinWomen. With IWD’s roots in women campaigning for peace at the start of the First World War, attitudes have shifted since then around female equality and emancipation. While great improvements have been made, there is still a way to go, particularly around pay and representation and investment in enabling opportunities for women.

“I was brought up to believe in equality of opportunity, and gender was never considered a barrier. I am from a family of strong female role models, who believe/d in equality and I have had great female mentors, incredible women who I am very proud of. I never felt that we couldn’t or shouldn’t be incredible in our own unique ways.

“At Beamish, we highlight hidden histories of women who lived and worked across the region, of women’s suffrage, women’s work and women’s domestic lives, shining a light on the difference they made, often hidden behind the work or praise of others. At the weekend, I tweeted about the women who made a massive difference during the miners’ strike, setting up warm spaces and serving food to the striking miners’ families. These women made a difference.

“It’s important to me as the female lead of a large organisation, to use IWD as an opportunity to make a difference. IWD provides the chance to celebrate women’s achievements, educate and raise awareness about women’s equality. What we do next is most important, in understanding that equality can only be possible when we understand the context that many women find themselves in, and to support their own individual needs.”

Samantha Shotton, Chief Operating Officer, Beamish Museum

“I love working for Beamish. Not only has it got an incredibly strong and friendly team, but it holds a unique place in the heart of the people of the North East.

“What I particularly enjoy is that it doesn’t stand still. The museum is over 50 years old and yet it continues to grow, develop and adapt with huge potential for social impact. We are able to tell stories in the most engaging way which allows our visitors to interact in a way that works for them. Telling stories like this also allows us to have conversations about forward-thinking topics while sharing examples from the past. We are very committed to exploring diverse stories and working with communities to bring these to our visitors.

“Beamish has an important part to play in the region, not only keeping our heritage alive and making that accessible for people but also as a major attraction in the North East. With over 800,000 visitors, we are a key draw for guests to County Durham and we hope we can help to contribute further to this with the opening of our self-catering accommodation in the summer, we hope guests will come to visit us and then use us a base to further explore the region. With over 450 paid staff and our relationship with local suppliers, we contribute to the overall economy of the region.

“I feel humbled to be a female leader at the museum, led by the very inspiring Rhiannon Hiles. With a strong team alongside us, we are in a great position to really think about what the museum can offer in the future as we come out of our major capital investment programme and present to our visitors our new exhibits.

It’s a really exciting time for the museum as we present our new buildings. We are also thinking creatively around some of the challenges presented to the industry as a whole, including how we look at philanthropy.”

Dr Elouise Leonard-Cross is a Vice-Chair of Beamish Museum’s Board of Trustees.

“I love that everyone has a Beamish story – being part of the museum is a privilege and it is a real regional connector.

“The opportunity to join a brand new board was an exciting one, you don’t often get the chance to collaborate on building something from scratch. Having been a regular museum visitor over the years, the chance to help ensure Beamish thrives and is available for future generations was a really exciting opportunity.

“Along with a new Board there was also the appointment for a number of senior leadership roles. In the region we have a number of inspiring female leaders and I’m proud we have two of these in our top roles at Beamish.”

Speaking about Beamish’s role in telling the stories of women’s roles through time and also in offering inspiration, opportunity and equity in today’s world, Dr Leonard-Cross said: “It’s very easy to tell history with a positive slant but Beamish is a museum and has a duty to educate and inform.

“One of the things the museum does particularly well is engage visitors of all ages in the past through real voices. The Suffragette story is told in dynamic interaction with visitors and creates memorable learning. My daughter was inspired to learn more and has read more on the subject as a result and it has helped her consider the importance of equity and fairness in people being given a voice.”

She added: “Beamish is a real jewel in the crown of our region. The growth of work in educational outreach and dementia programmes is something that are particularly special as they serve areas of our communities that aren’t always considered.

“The energy and ambition around Remaking Beamish, including the opening of our 1950s Town last year were huge achievements. The museum draws people into our region, and I love that we have something so unique within the North East.”