Debbie Greaves, who for the past 22 years has led the team responsible for making Tenterden Museum one of the most popular and dynamic attractions for visitors, was honoured with the Freedom of the Town and Hundred of Tenterden. She is only one of five recipients of the honour at any one time, and the first woman for 28 years.
The testimonial to Debbie, which was read out at the official Town Hall ceremony on Wednesday, 4 August said that “it is no exaggeration to say that Debbie has materially contributed to the prosperity of the town. The museum is one of the major tourist attractions pulling in visitors and aiding the local economy.”
Debbie, who has lived in Tenterden for 34 years, joined the museum as a volunteer after a career as a pilot flying hot air balloons. She was named Curator in 1999, and although the museum had originally opened in 1976, it was in need of revitalisation. Debbie’s leadership skills heralded an era of innovation and energy.
By 2004, the museum had reached such a high standard that it was awarded accreditation by the Arts Council, giving it access to grants and expertise.
In 2009, Debbie organized a 35th anniversary reunion of Tenterden Junior School pupils who had produced a Bayeux Tapestry–style collage of pictures in 1974 which has been on display at the museum since it opened. The reunion attracted those who had attended the school at that time, excited to see the work they had created as children.
Succeeding years brought new developments and improvements. In 2016 an interactive system was introduced, enabling mobility impaired visitors to view the whole museum from one spot, and the following year, an audio-guide scheme was introduced, scripted, recorded and delivered by the volunteers.
In 2019, the museum created its most ambitious exhibition to date, with three rooms set out in 1960s style and local people describing in oral clips their experiences in the last century.
Despite the pandemic, Debbie and her team of volunteers have managed to keep the museum open as often as possible, including making it a Covid-safe space.
Town Clerk Phil Burgess says: “Although the Freedom is purely honorary, it is a measure of the high esteem in which Debbie is held by the community and is richly deserved.”