On the 1st of June 2019, The Yorkshire Air Museum welcomed a new Director. Barbara George began her role as the Director of The Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial, as countries across Europe gathered to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings.
It was perhaps a poignant moment in time to be assuming the role, as the Museum moves forwards into a new era of development and exciting new initiatives, both locally, regionally and internationally.
It’s been a busy few weeks, with a lot of changes, however Barbara finally found a moment to chat about the vision of the Museum’s new director and the shared ambitions of the Museum’s board of trustees.
Q. So you’re not ‘new’ to the Museum, in fact you’ve worked here for quite a while?
A. I’ve worked here since 2014 and have been the Deputy Director since 2017. So staff and volunteers will know me, however I am perhaps a new face to those outside of the Museum. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in the Museum community, the Yorkshire tourism community and also meeting even more of the many thousands of visitors we welcome each year.
Q. You are actually French by birth and have lived in Australia for quite a while. How did you come to be so passionate about the Yorkshire Air Museum and what do you hope to bring to your new role?
A. Indeed, I was born and brought up in France although most of my family is Anglo-French and Anglophile! My maternal grandfather was British and during the war he joined the RAF to fly Wellington bombers on raids over Germany before becoming a Flying Control Officer.
At the same time his French niece was a secretary for General De Gaulle at the Free French office in London. Meanwhile in France, my French grandfather, who was a Doctor, was a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of a military camp and hospital.
His actions in the French resistance and medical accomplishments saving lives earned him a Legion d’Honneur from the French government.
Taking charge of the Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial is truly an honour and means so much to me as it links all sides of my personal history with the RAF Bomber Command heritage on the one hand and the heroic efforts of the Free French on the other.
Q. What was your background before coming to The Yorkshire Air Museum?
A. I have had a fairly varied career so far taking me to Australia, France and the UK, with experience in fields including management, finance, marketing, immigration and collections archiving but also a life-long interest in museums and history, visiting museums with my family from a very young age.
I am keen to bring the untold stories of Elvington at the heart of the museum and build on the collective memory of the airfield’s role during the Second World War which is still present in the local community and Yorkshire.
Q. Along with the Board of Trustees, you’re going to be launching a new Museum strategy this month. This new Museum ethos is ‘To Honour, Educate and Inspire’. It’s a huge subject, however how would you describe the Museum’s new strategy to the family visitors who come here?
A. Traditionally the role of museums used to be to collect and preserve objects and present them to the public. However, current visitors are now demanding a less static and more immersive experience. Our new strategy and ethos will place the visitor journey and learning at the heart of everything we do.
We want to empower people to take their own journeys of discovery rather than us telling them. At the same time, we want to make our collections and stories relevant to diverse audiences.
One of the purposes of our strategy has been to rethink our mission as an organisation. We are satisfied that our new mission encompasses the values that our museum and memorial want to stand for.
At the core, we wish to honour the memory of WWII Allied aircrew, but also educate the public in the history of aviation and the importance of forging strategic partnerships, while inspiring future generations to take up careers in the fields of aviation, engineering and diplomacy.
Our vision is to be a nationally recognised memorial museum which respects and values its community and heritage and captivates all generations of visitors through its inspiring educational work.
Q. We know that both you and the Trustees are very proud of the role of The Allied Air Forces Memorial at the Museum. In Europe and across the world, Allies come and go of course. With D Day commemoration drawing to a close and in 2020, VE Day around the corner, what role do you think the Memorial can have in explaining that part of history?
A. Beyond commemorating heroes who often gave their lives to ensure our freedom, our memorial plays a significant role in explaining the importance of strategic partnerships. We have an opportunity but also a responsibility to explore issues of identity and the changes in international diplomacy which have frequently led to shifts in allegiances and alliances. As a memorial museum, we are in a position where we can explore these issues in order to equip people with the facts and understanding relevant to contemporary concerns.
Q. An easy question, but probably a loaded one! What is your favourite element of being the new Museum Director so far?
A. I have only been in the role a short while so it is hard to say but, so far, I have been very touched and motivated by the incredible amount of support I have received from our wonderful community of staff and volunteers.
I have been working at The Yorkshire Air Museum for four and a half years and I have always enjoyed the diversity in everyday activities and my interaction with incredibly knowledgeable people, whether they be volunteers, veterans or visitors.
I am very excited about our upcoming summer events, particularly our celebration of 50 years since the moon landing on 21st July which will be so much fun, followed by our family day on 28th July and our new revamped Thunder Day on 18th August.
In between, there will be an action-packed summer of activities at the museum and much work to be done on planning new exhibitions and a new interpretation programme for our aircraft collection. I am also the self-appointed schools and STEM ‘champion’ for the museum and I look forward to leading our dedicated school guiding team into a new year of great school visits and workshops!
Barbara George at a glance
Barbara George is the first female director of the The Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial.
She completed a MA in Applied Languages and Commerce at Lille University, France. She is an accredited translator in English and French certified by the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs.
She worked in London in public relations and financial marketing prior to moving to Australia to join her husband, a FA-18 pilot in the RAAF. In Australia, she was Marketing Communications Manager for the largest recruitment services provider in the country prior to studying immigration law in 2003.
She created a consultancy firm advising people on Australian immigration policy matters and translation services. She joined the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship in 2010 where she was Assistant Director and worked on various policy portfolios as well as a Parliamentary Inquiry into Australian immigration detention centres.
Barbara moved back to the UK with her family following an RAAF posting for her husband within BAe Systems. She started work at The Yorkshire Air Museum at the end of 2014 as Museum Manager (Development). She was promoted to Deputy Museum Director in 2017. She’s also been an archiving volunteer within the Collections Department of the York Minster for the past 4 years.
Barbara has been instrumental at The Yorkshire Air Museum in creating strategies to bring more families to the museum and develop its educational programme for schools, increasing the school visits to the museum by 300%. Barbara is French with an Australian citizenship and is a member of the Museums Association and the Association of Independent Museums.