Creation!

As we begin to move away from spring we put down our chainsaws and billhooks and pick up our hammers and nails. Instead of hedgelaying and coppicing, the activities that Hannah and I are undertaking are more focused on building and creating. We have to stop such activities at the end of April so as not to disturb nesting birds or hedgerow inhabitants. It also gives the plants that we have cut back a chance to grow and rejuvenate. It means that we are now able undertake some essential site maintenance and construction!

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As Hannah has already said, we had to opportunity to lead a group of Prince’s Trust trainees for two weeks which allowed them to get an insight and hands-on experience in a countryside management role. They helped us maintain and repair the river walk bridges and undertake various other site activities, but Aaron, one of the trainees, had the chance to stay on for an extra few days and he helped us to construct a much needed muck pen for the farm. This required us to dig fairly deep through some heavily compacted stony soil to set all the posts in to make them sturdy and level. And this was all done by hand! There were sore backs all round that day. It took us several days to construct but we are all very proud of our efforts and it is greatly appreciated by the farm team.

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For the past few weeks we have had a good run of getting a lot of fencing installed around the site. The main area of work has been in the overflow car park fields where we have placed posts that will allow us to create a semi-permanent electric fence for when our Suffolk Punch horses are kept in there. In an adjacent field we have constructed a long length of stock proof fencing along a ditch so our sheep don’t go wandering into it. This was a good collaborative effort from Hannah and I, the two new farm apprentices and volunteers. We haven’t had any wandering sheep so far which must be a sign the fence is working.

Even though we have stopped any substantial vegetation removal there can still be essential trees that must be taken down. Such a tree was a particularly unhealthy Elder that was too dangerous to be left standing in the Woodland playground and so Hannah, Mike Crisp and I took it down safely and so removed it from being a problem. It has also helped us to top up the farmhouse’s wood store along with some more of our wind fallen Ash (with the aid of Mike’s handy log splitter!).

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We have also had the opportunity to create things a bit more fun than just fences. During the May half term Hannah and I have been running Environmental Art sessions in the Museum courtyard. This has involved us collecting flint stones, sticks, leaves, sheep wool, horse hair and clay and helping children and adults make objects and art using all of these natural materials. This is has been a surprisingly successful activity and was great fun to run with some adults enjoying it more than their children.

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It is not all glitz and glamour working here at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse; sometimes it requires us to get our hands dirty. After noticing some of the farmyard’s drains were backed up, myself and Ben (the new Skills for the Future Farm Apprentice) soon realised there was only one thing to do, and that was to roll our sleeves up and unclog the drains by hand. Even though it was an unpleasant job it still had to be done and now the drains are all flowing free.

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Due to the arrival of some lovely new ducklings on the farm, Hannah, Ben and I decided to start building them a new house so that they can finally be put onto the grass and out in the open. As you can see from the photo, it is starting to take shape and they should be out in the farmyard any time soon.

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Hopefully the weather will begin to improve and we can enjoy a summer full of sunshine!

Thomas Watson, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee

Learning

Four weeks ago I began my new role as a Heritage Learning Trainee working with the Learning department at Gressenhall, it has been exciting and extremely varied. There was glorious weather as I began my education about the museum, the people and animals working there, the people who visit, the building’s history and different interpretations of the site and its past.

The Learning department has been busy in these weeks and in the first days I was greeted by groups of Victorian urchins who arrived to pick stones from the sun baked fields.

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Mike & Trojan explain the role Suffolk Horses and the Men who worked with them played in Victorian agriculture

Different groups of pupils visit to learn about and experience what life might have been like for them had they being living in or close to the Workhouse 150 years ago and for others the life of evacuees during World War Two. I have been observing these activities much of the time, learning how the staff use the site and role -play to communicate these stories, I have been putting on costume and helping to deliver some of these sessions.

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In the potato field there’s hoeing and scruffling to be done

In more recent days the weather has not been so kind, but it adds to the immersive experience.

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Storm clouds roll in as children hoe and Ben, Steve and Trojan make their way up and down the rows

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Trojan doesn’t appreciate the hailstones

Animals in fairy tales generally come in threes, as I’ve discovered during the Three Little Pigs and Three Billy Goats Gruff days, where the structure of these stories is used as a starting point to exploring Gressenhall.

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Out in the wild wood; the children build trolls that live under bridges and houses of straw and houses of sticks for pigs

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There have also been activities for adults to become involved in and the Learning department has been creating Hell hath no fury: A Murder Mystery, for Museums at night, in the last weeks there has been script development, costume making, rehearsals and stacks of organisation from everyone at the museum. I had the role of prompt and audience guide for one of the groups of the enquiring public.

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Rehearsal in the Chapel; Katie is overcome by Jan’s accusations

 All the hard work was worth it as it was a very successful two nights and great opportunity to see the museum in a different context.

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The haunting atmosphere of the laundry surrounds Anna in her role as Mary the unmarried mother

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Outside the Chapel at night

Thank you to everyone at Gressenhall for being welcoming and helpful, especially Jan, Katie, Rachel, Anna and Ruth (and for all the lifts out to the Workhouse) I look forward to the rest of my Skills for The Future experience.

 

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Better than getting the bus: The Merc

 Gawain Godwin, Heritage Learning Trainee

Spring         

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            As spring starts to take hold on the farm we are finishing off winter projects and beginning to start on the summer work around the farm. Over the winter we have revamped the board walk but the bridges on the river walk still needed to be looked at.

 Luckily we had some help from a few Princes Trust trainees who were with us for a two week placement. This was on a countryside skills ‘Get into’ programme and we were joined by  James, Jess and Aaron. With their help we managed to finish all the river walk improvements, which included four bridges and a gate.

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Jess stapling the chicken wire down on the bridge to allow all weather use

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Tom, Aaron and James constructing a new ramp from the bridge

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James, Tom and Aaron making sure the gate will hang correctly

We also managed to fit in a bit of woodland management with poles for den building being the end product (which hopefully will be used in the weeks to come – if it doesn’t pour with rain!). During the two week placement with us James, Jess and Aaron were also able to see how the farm is run and one of our sows gave birth to 9 piglets (who are all doing well).

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The sow and her 9 piglets taking a well deserved rest

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In addition to all the construction going on around the farm there was also time for planting potatoes and sowing seeds in the traditional manner with help from Trojan with the harrowing.

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           It has been very busy on the farm with numerous arrivals to the site. The sheep all did very well with deliveries being seen by many of the visitors to the farm and our Nanny Goat ‘Connie’ gave birth to twins.

 

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Connie with Cyril (white) and Chloe (red tinge)

 The two siblings have been named ‘Chloe’ and ‘Cyril’ and are both enjoying life on the farm. Many chicks have also joined us and are making the most of the new chicken run with the resident chickens and cockerel.

 

The summer work Tom and I will be starting soon are projects such as stock proofing and fencing as well beginning some woodland managment plans.

Hannah Southon, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee