Gaining Skills For The Future in Heritage Learning

Hi I’m Tabitha the Heritage Learning Trainee and am based in two different places with two different hats to wear! During school term time I am mainly based at Ancient House, Thetford, and throughout the holidays I am mainly in King’s Lynn for the Fenland Lives & Land project, as well as across the Fens Museums when needed. Since graduating from university last year I have been involved with museums doing collections volunteering as well as working as a museum assistant leading tours. I’ve always enjoyed exploring historical sites with fascination since I was little and felt they are a vital place for learning, and for not just history but more varied subjects. When I saw this traineeship appear I thought it looked just my sort of thing – fun events with schools, projects, and working with youth groups – but it turned out to be so much more!

The title of Heritage Learning Trainee is one that includes a range of activities and tasks, especially as the traineeship is divided between sites, but a challenge is always rewarding and I got straight into learning the ropes.

Working with the Fenland Lives & Land project involves assisting with the great learning programme that’s on offer alongside the five community co-produced exhibitions funded by HLF which are touring the Fens Museums over the year. As one of the partnership museums Lynn Museum is having three of the exhibitions with the latest currently being installed, and to coincide with the fantastic exhibitions there’s great family events. The first was ‘The Vikings are Coming!’ which explored the links with the brave bearded explorers visiting the watery fen landscape.

Picture 1 viking event

‘The Vikings are Coming!’ Our Lives & Land event went down brilliantly. Odin would be proud!

 The day included meeting Vikings, creating your own Viking brooch, as well as having a go at coin minting in the Viking method. As this was my first large event during the traineeship I was excited to be able to create my own activity to be available on the day, and decided to offer a simple paper activity of ‘what kind of Viking would you be?’. As it was so popular on the day Project Support Worker Ruth decided it would be included in the summer Learning Programme. Some of the Fens museums have already booked the session so I expect to see more fantastic Viking characters being created this summer.
It was great fun on the day and interesting to be involved in the preparation for such a big event day. I will definitely be using those skills for future events coming up, with both the Fenland project and at Ancient House museum.

The next big event I was able to be a part of was a World War Two family day at Ancient House, run in partnership with the 8th in the East project, which explores the 8th United States Army Air Force in the East of England. The visiting families were given a G.I. Training Card upon arrival, and over the day completed the card with stationed activities. These including painting your own patch, meeting ‘Hank the Yank’, and making Wartime Truffles with myself and a volunteer (the secret ingredient being mashed potato!)

picture 2 1st photo wartime truffles

All prepped for truffle making.

This was my first chanceto get into acharacter session, which I know I will be doing a lot more of at Ancient House, as their historical events and school sessions are very popular, so this was a perfect introduction. I have done sessions with youth groups before, but it was a totally different experience being able to step back in time in a great historical kitchen, which if you have seen will understand how atmospheric it can be. Before this event there had been several meetings to organise the day and how it would work, and being a part of these was vital to understanding how much work goes into a joint heritage event, from the finance to the consideration of the museums Georgian floor and using paint!

 I really enjoyed the chance to use my knowledge of rationing and Dig for Victory, as well as getting my hands dirty with cocoa powder! It made me realise how much preparation is needed for events, and that you can never plan enough – as anyone in learning will know, anything can happen!

 Getting to grips with providing the sessions that are available at Ancient House, with Learning Officer Melissa Hawker, is a great experience as they are so varied, and really blows away any presumptions that museums are dusty old lifeless buildings! Another event I was able to be part of was the ‘Hard Times Victorian Mystery’ for the West Norfolk Home Educators. The day involved a serious crime of a stolen spoon, and Victorian sessions interweaved with suspicion and plot twists. It was great fun playing the role of ‘Alice’ for the day alongside four freelancers, which gave me more confidence in delivering a drama-based session while being able to observe them, and ad-lib when needed! It was also a key chance to gain more knowledge into how to provide a diverse session, as I had previously done drop-in family days or working with specific groups. However having to adapt to the varying ages that were present was a brilliant challenge and a fun day was had by all.

‘Hard Times Victorian Mystery’ – who took the silver spoon? Turns out I had!

‘Hard Times Victorian Mystery’ – who took the silver spoon? Turns out I had!

Very early on in the traineeship I realised my responsibilities would not only be school sessions and event days, but a whole lot more within the goings on and exciting tasks happening at Ancient House. When starting the role I knew my interests were not just in learning but also in collections, conservation, and curatorial management, and realised that within this position I am able to explore those roots and be involved in a variety of roles.

picture 4 1st lives and land

Installing the ‘Living on Land and Water’ exhibition at Lynn Museum in March.

With Fenland Project I have been able to help and obverse the moving and installation of the touring exhibitions, which meant visiting other fen museums as well as getting down to the nitty-gritty of what an exhibition really consists of.

Moreover, when I began in March the staff of Ancient House were preparing for a new exhibition named ‘I ♥ Toys and Games’ which celebrates play in living memory.

Working with volunteer Dan on some lead Snow White figures for the Toys exhibition.

Working with volunteer Dan on some lead Snow White figures for the Toys exhibition.

This meant I was able to get stuck in with a range of tasks from recording the vast amount of objects that were brought in on loan, to being in charge of the retro sweets needed for the exhibition opening. 

This gave me a great insight into the real effort and organisation that goes into exhibitions, and I am excited to be involved from the start with the Thetford in World War One exhibition to commemorate the centenary this year.

 As well as being able to explore my interests and passions through the ongoing exhibitions and mini-projects with Ancient House and the Fenland Project, I have been able to attend various training days. These range from SHARE Museums East courses on object handling & packing, housekeeping, and conservation, to an upcoming Teaching Museums day visiting independent museums around North Norfolk. So far these have all been really informative and have given me a wider knowledge of the roles within a museum, and the care and dedication that goes into caring for our vital collections and buildings by various people. We can all do our bit to help!

picture5 housekeeping training

Everyone’s got to do their bit with the Museum housekeeping!

To conclude then, it’s been a fantastic first few months doing such a great range of tasks and responsibilities. I’ve been able to gain a better understanding of the daily life and inner workings of a busy museum, as well as the organisation needed and involved in a project which covers a fantastic subject. With this position I’ve been able to visit several of the fens museums, and various sites in the Norfolk Museum Service. This has given me a whole other perspective when it comes to the efforts at a national level, and has made me realise how lucky I am to work (and live close to) such a unique and thriving area for heritage.

There’s plenty coming up for both roles. My ‘Fenland hat’ has been firmly on over the last couple of weeks to prepare for our Bygone Beasts event at Lynn Museum, which coincides with the opening of the Wild Fens exhibition – I’ve had a sneak peak and it’s looking fantastically ferocious! At Ancient House we’ve got several bookings lined up for more group activity days, plus our History Club and Teenage History Club are both getting through their new term programme. To add to the mix, as of last week I am trained to be an Arts Award advisor for Discover and Explore levels, so I can’t wait to start putting this to good use with our clubs.

All in all a great start to the traineeship being busy, learning, challenged, and having a blast! Bring on the rest of the year I say.




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