AIM Conference Speaker Spotlight: Bryan Snelling

Each year, AIM National Conference hosts an impressive line-up of speakers and heritage experts who give talks and lead breakout sessions on a wide variety of topics that are relevant to independent museums. This year’s conference – which runs June 18 – 20 at ss Great Britain in Bristol – is no different, and with thirty speakers and twelve breakout sessions taking place, we have decided to highlight some of the speakers in a new series of interviews over the coming weeks to help give you a taste of what to expect this year.

The next brave soul to enter the AIM spotlight is Bryan Snelling, Executive Director of The Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen, Scotland. Bryan has held the position of Executive Director since 2014 and entered the museum sector after a highly successful career working for Student Unions across the UK, eventually working his way up to become General Manager at Aberdeen University Students Association. This solid background in managing finances, training and development and HR has reaped rewards for The Gordon Highlanders Museum which is now flourishing under Bryan’s care.

As a person, Bryan is friendly, engaging and passionate about innovation and he possesses a keen eye for detail and natural ability to see the bigger picture – traits which have helped to increase the income and visitor numbers at the museum. When he’s not working, Bryan enjoys playing hockey and is proud to be Centre Forward/Striker for his team, Granite City Wanderers. A devoted Dad of two young children and a keen reader of fiction and crime thrillers, Bryan is easy to talk to and it was a genuine pleasure for us to catch up with him over the phone for this interview.

Bryan will be giving a talk entitled ‘Leadership and entrepreneurialism at the Gordon Highlanders Museum’ at conference where he will share the things that have worked (and not worked!) in diversifying and increasing earned income at the Gordon Highlanders Museum. This will be his first time at AIM conference and he is looking forward to meeting colleagues from other UK independent museums.


Bryan Snelling, Executive Director of The Gordon Highlanders Museum

AIM: What can people expect from your talk at AIM conference this year Bryan?

BS: Well, my talk won’t be rocket science, and some of what I plan on saying might seem obvious… but someone has to say it! I hope people can take away ideas that make them think “Why didn’t we think about that?” and that they leave motivated. I will be talking about income targets, the different areas that can help to generate money for a museum and what we have done at The Gordon Highlanders to increase our own income. Sometimes small changes can make a huge difference, for example, we moved a shelving unit that was blocking the access to our shop and our shop sales leapt by 30%. That unit had been preventing walk through trade and when it was moved, it was evident that making small changes and seeing things in new ways can really help.

AIM: We can often stop ‘seeing’ things can’t we when we work in the same environment every day, so making changes can be so helpful, but what do you hope people will take away from them after hearing you talk Bryan?

BS: As much or as little as they want, but I really hope that by listening to our experience that it will inspire them to make changes for the better too. Of course, my talk will be based on our experience and this won’t be the same for everyone, but maybe some of the talk will help support others to increase their core funding too. I am talking for fifteen minutes, so if only ten seconds of what I say will help someone in the audience, I will be happy!

AIM: Why do you think AIM conference is useful for UK independent museums?

BS: Because no matter what the size of the independent museum you come from, ultimately we are all in the same boat. It will be a good chance for likeminded people to come together and discuss their issues with others that have been through the same things. Most importantly, we aren’t all in competition with each other, so we can freely share information to make things better for the museum sector in general.

AIM: That’s very true and conference is great for networking and idea sharing amongst independents but why else are independent museums are so unique Bryan?

BS: I think it’s because of the wide variety in terms of collections and also size. There are massive independent museums like the ss Great Britain and also small museums run by a handful of dedicated volunteers – that’s what makes the independent sector so wonderful. Their uniqueness comes from their diversity and variety. Also, independents are like the proverbial speedboat! We can make changes instantly in what we do without having to jump through hoops first. If we want to make a difference, we can do so immediately. The best analogy is that we aren’t a super tanker that takes weeks to get anywhere – we are fleet of foot and fast moving. We can lead the way because of our flexibility.

AIM: So, what are you most looking forward to about AIM conference this year personally Bryan?

BS: Well, this will be my first AIM conference as I have only been working in the museum sector for the past sixteen months, so I am most looking forward to meeting others in the same situation.

AIM: AIM conference is famous for its informality and friendly atmosphere – you will have a great time! What other talks and sessions on the schedule this year interests you?

BS: I really want to see Pippa Griffiths’ talk called ‘Something for everyone; engaging with our local community’ because we are trying to engage our local community more too. Community engagement can be a powerful marketing tool, so I hope to pick up some tips from her talk. I also look forward to hearing Bernard Donoghue at his talk called ‘The Great British Day Off: Who to you think you are? Meets Downton Abbey – What a great day out feels like’.

AIM: And finally, before we let you go for a well-earned cup of tea, what would you say to encourage others to attend conference this year?

BS: I would say to give it a chance and try it because unless you do, you won’t know how good it is! If you leave AIM conference with new ideas and contacts – great! If not, then at least you have tried it. Ultimately I would say “What have you got to lose?” It might very well be the best decision you have ever made.

AIM: Thanks so much for your time Bryan. Is there anything else you would like to add?

BS: Only that this is my first AIM conference, so please feel free to come and speak to me at any time so I feel less like Norman no mates!

You can find out more about The Gordon Highlanders Museum HERE

Find out about AIM National Conference 2015 HERE


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