Building a wall to break down barriers

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The Voices from the Workhouse project has redeveloped our wonderful building to tell the stories of the workhouse through objects, documents, sculptures and projections. Upstairs, the Collections Gallery is undergoing a fantastic transformation to showcase yet more objects from Norfolk’s rural past.

Alongside both these elements we’ve been running an extensive learning and engagement program to raise awareness of the museum’s new look and to encourage visitors to share their creative responses to the stories and objects on display. Some of these activities and projects have taken place here at the museum, and others have reached out into the local community. Some did both!

One such project was called ‘Brick By Brick’, inspired by the beautiful red bricks of the workhouse. What secrets do the walls hold? What could they tell us?

Lots of groups of different ages and abilities got involved. Participants were treated to a short talk and/or a tour of the workhouse which stimulated discussion on themes like rural isolation, poverty and institutions. It was easy to make connections to contemporary issues about how we look after the poor today.

After the talk and discussion, there were two activities. Firstly, the group placed wooden figures on a workhouse map. The cute little figures were extremely appealing to all ages, and the large-sized map made a very striking visual prop.

Locating and relocating the workhouse figures according to status, age and gender naturally provoked a lot of discussion relating to the issue of ‘difference’ in its many forms.

Then, each participant made and decorated a hollow ‘brick’ in whatever way they chose that made it meaningful to them. Inside each brick they were invited to put words, a picture or an object to represent their secret, wish or dream.

The ‘Brick wall’ was displayed, as promised to participants, at GFW during October half term 2016 in conjunction with another Learning & Engagement project and the GFW Collaborate exhibition, encouraging all those who contributed to visit the museum.

In April 2017 an additional Brick By Brick outreach session went to HMP Wayland, where prisoners in the PDU and PIPE units engaged fully with the idea of walls holding secrets! One of the prisoners wrote up the session and his final comments demonstrate how the message of the project had been successfully conveyed to participants:

When staff at Gressenhall workhouse museum present this talk they ask the group participating to make cardboard bricks – and then to decorate them in a way that tells their story. With the increasing numbers of cardboard bricks the museum is continuing to pass on the whispered stories of people’s lives. So yes, the walls can talk, as we heard in this session and the story continues to grow proving that we are more than a ‘Brick in the Wall’”.

‘Brick By Brick’ was just one of many community learning & engagement projects at Gressenhall. Watch out for our partnership making phonecase tweets with Mind later this year!!

Another Farewell

Hi everyone- Rebecca here, with another farewell blog post. I’ll be finishing my Heritage Learning traineeship in two weeks, which has come around far too quickly. I’ll be spending my last bit of time here delivering school sessions to Reception/Key Stage 1 children (ages 4-7) and doing some training at Norwich Castle which will be lovely.

Since my last blog post we’ve had the very exciting news that the museum has been awarded £1.47million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to redevelop our workhouse exhibitions. We found out not long before Christmas, and as soon as the New Year came around the collections team were busy clearing all of our workhouse spaces, ready for the contractors who are now here. This is a great achievement for the museum and will look fabulous once finished, but it did present a bit of a challenge for the education department. We run sessions for Key Stage 2 and 3 which use the workhouse, so we had to do some thinking on our feet to alter sessions that had been booked in before we found out we’d been successful.

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Exciting changes are afoot

At the end of January I took groups of Year 9s on an outside tour of the workhouse buildings, looking into some of the changes that were made as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, which changed the site from a house of industry to a workhouse. Preparing for this session was really interesting as I hadn’t noticed some of the changes myself (such as the remnants of a dividing wall between the casuals’ ward and the unmarried mothers’ ward). We also looked at historical documents relating to people who were once in Gressenhall workhouse, and compared them to documents about people living outside the workhouse at the time. This allowed pupils to gain a better insight into what it was like to live in poverty in Victorian times, and possibly to re-evaluate their opinion of the workhouse.

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The only remnants of the dividing wall- see if you can locate it next time you visit

Recently it was half-term, which for me meant an opportunity to catch up on some DIY! I constructed a ‘mobile market’ which will be used for Key Stage 1 children to be able to role-play in our Village Row shop. A larger bulk of my time, though, was spent making progress with our 1950s-themed dolls’ house (which will be used, funnily enough, in our 1950s room for a 1950s-themed session). In my last blog I showed you some of the furniture we have for the house, and now I have finally had time to do the wallpapering. This proved just as difficult as actual wallpapering due to the tiny tiny measurements! One centimetre out and I had to start again… But I got there in the end. Some finishing accessories (such as an ironing board and pictures to go on the walls) arrived today; I will be laying (paper) flooring next week and our Live Interpretation Officer, Rachel, will be making some soft furnishings- then it will finally be ready to be used! I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product, but I hope you’ll agree that it’s already looking pretty good.

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An ongoing labour of love

In previous blogs both Tabitha and I have mentioned that we’ve been taking part in a Foundation Course in Museum Learning run by GEM. The course lasted from October-December and saw us visiting various museums in London to meet their learning departments and see what sorts of education offers they have. The course was invaluable in terms of practical tips, getting a better understanding of museum theory, and making contact with other people in the sector. I would never have been able to go on the course without this traineeship so I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

At the end of the course we were asked to write an assignment, for which I evaluated our new Neolithic school event which I mentioned in my last blog. I, along with the rest of Gressenhall’s learning team, delivered the event to just over 1,000 children between September and November. My assignment looked at the effect of the new Key Stage 2 History curriculum, which features prehistory and does not feature the Victorians- previously a staple of Gressenhall’s education offer. Here we are very lucky to have a prehistory gallery and lots of outdoor space, so thankfully we have been able to adapt well to these changes in the curriculum and our Neolithic event is of a really high quality (if I do say so myself). For other museums who don’t have this luxury, the changes have been very concerning. But equally, sites that focus on prehistory have seen school visits increase massively. For more info see this BBC News article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-28461034

As of yet I don’t know what I’ll be moving on to when I finish here, but I do know that my traineeship has given me masses of training and practical experience that will be useful wherever I go. I’ve had an amazing time here and would like to thank Rachel, Katie, Jan and Anna for welcoming me into their team, as well as everyone else at Gressenhall (including visitors) who make this such a special place to work… And of course, to the HLF for creating the Skills for the Future programme!

Rebecca Hunt

Heritage Learning Trainee

Ta ta from a terrific traineeship!

Hello all Tabitha here again! This is officially my last blog post before my traineeship comes to a close in March – boo hoo! – However I shall do my best to sum up events from my last blog, and hopefully what is still to come.

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog post, Ancient House was preparing for the big Thetford Lights On event on the 28th November. The museum opened its doors from 5pm until 9pm to welcome the whole town to an Edwardian Christmas! There were Edwardian fete style games, an RFC officer, a singing soldier, lavender bags to make, skittles, plus the chance for the public to handle museum objects. I was based in the kitchen making peppermint creams, which I think was popular for all ages! We also lit our open range and had a Christmas pudding and some mulled cider on the boil, where visitors could grind up spices to add to the mix.

1 edwardian xmas The house really did feel alive, plus we added decorations of holly branches and Edwardian Christmas cards really did get me in the mood for Christmas! However after a couple of hours in a long skirt and high neck blouse, constantly checking if the range needed feeding (and every now and again relighting it) I soon felt a real sense of how easy we have it nowadays! We didn’t have anything cooking in the range, but it still took constant effort to keep it going while at the same time trying to prepare sweets – a very simple recipe! I have full respect for anyone of the past who wore a skirt or restrictive clothes and did half the things we do today. I do strongly believe that to experience something is to really understand it, and the experience of an Edwardian kitchen will stay with me forever.

The final big event before Christmas was an Edwardian Murder Mystery by Ancient House Teenage History Club. The plan was for three groups with ‘detective notes’ to visit each room to hear the stories of the characters, which the teenagers played fantastically! After spending the term previously preparing for the event, including three weeks working with storyteller Dave Tong, they really did brilliantly and were even prompting questions from the audience without fault. The suspects were all asked to have a final round of questioning in the hall, before the audience made a ballot of who they thought the murderer was – with the majority choosing wrong! The mystery was named a success by everyone, so I think another will definitely be in future plans.

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The glamorous aftermath of sorting costumes and props with Melissa!

Last but by no means least, 11th of December saw the 90th Birthday of Ancient House! That evening in the Carnegie Rooms in Thetford was a grand affair to celebrate the occasion and fundraise for a new redisplay in the museum to tell the story of Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family. The room was filled with cocktail dresses, suits and spicy smells from the fantastic three course meal provided by Punjab, the UK’s oldest North Indian restaurant. It really was a fantastic evening, and marked the start great ninetieth year to come for the museum and all involved – plus many years to come!

Lovely piece in the newspaper too, although didn’t realise I was going to be in it!

Lovely piece in the newspaper too, although didn’t realise I was going to be in it!

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Then all of a sudden it was 2015!
After a lovely Christmas and New Year the museum was back into the swing of things, and I was back into my traineeship with my first new experience being… the Strangers Hall deep clean!

5 strangers deep clean Before I started many people were saying comments such as ‘wrap up warm’, ‘wear layers’ and ‘don’t forget extra socks!’, but after a morning on training on Friday 9th and meeting the other members of staff and volunteers involved I was very excited – and not too cold! Although I could only give one day to the clean it really was great experience of how much work needs go into keeping a historic building up to date and as clean as possible. Despite the known problems all historic museums must have to constantly battle with, we completed more than I thought was possible in just one day. I was in Lady Paine’s bedroom which involved the four poster bed spread needing to be stripped and packed for freezing! The day really highlighted to me how much prior organisation and planning is essential to a feat like the deep clean. Everyone ensured there were the correct stations of tables and equipment set up, and people prepped for their rooms and working together. I hope it goes just as smoothly for the rest of the deep clean, good luck all involved!

As well as the deep clean I have been able to attend a Share Museums East training session last week at Mildenhall & District Museum. The day was focusing on Stone Age to Iron Age, broadening our ideas of activities and sessions on the topic. It was a great day, and as it is a topic being tackled by more and more schools I felt the day really expanded my knowledge of the era. It was also fantastic as always to exchange ideas for delivery through sharing and talking with other museum staff and volunteers – something I regard highly for any topic or subject.

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                          Some ideas on big paper is always good!

 

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#MuseumSelfie  Couldn’t help myself but chat to a friendly Roman about the great redisplays in the Mildenhall & District Museum currently underway!

So that’s a brief sum up of what’s happened so far since my last post here. However there is one other rather big feat that I am attempting for the first time with fantastic support and encouragement from Ancient House; A Sleepover in the Museum!

As part of the GEM Museum Learning course I am part of we were asked to produce a work based assignment, and I perhaps rather ambitiously decided to organise a unique experience of a Sleepover in the Museum – and it will be the first time this has happened! Out of work I am a Girlguiding UK leader in training, and have been involved in guiding all my life (I was taken on the first guide camp at the ripe age of a few months!). I feel that Girlguiding UK as a whole is a rather ‘untapped market’ as people in business might say, and the organisation could be part of a fantastic partnership with local museums and heritage sites. Therefore I have decided to target the exclusive offer only to Guide groups to try and bridge this gap, and also to draw on some of my out-of-work knowledge in Guiding.

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Please share this poster if you know any Guide leaders who might be interested!

Guides will be able to explore the museum after dark and discover the museum stores and cellar usually closed to the public. Activities also include a torch-lit tour, making your own ‘mini-museum’, handling real historical artefacts, meeting characters from when the house was new, and discovering the role of an Archaeologist and making an intriguing dessert called Palaeontologist Pudding!

Despite the fact that starting in late November to organise an event of this scale before mid-February, and be written into a case study appearing impossible at certain times, it is going successfully and I can’t lie that I am incredibly excited for when the evening comes next month. Part of deciding to organise such a large assignment was because of the experience I will gain from the administration side of creating this event, which is an area I wished to improve on and already feel more confident in certain areas of this. Moreover I feel incredibly privileged to be able and actually allowed to hold an event like this, and I can’t thank Oliver, Melissa, and all the Ancient House staff for being so helpful and supportive in this huge feat!

So that’s it, my ramblings have come to an end, and I have loved every single second of it! Despite trying not to sound too cliché, I can honestly say that the last year has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve done amazing things and met extraordinary people, and learnt an incredible amount about museums, learning, history, and – again cliché – myself. I will never forget the astounding opportunities I have been offered during my traineeship, as well as the freedom and trust to push myself into new things. I really will miss Ancient House, the Fenland Lives & Land Project, NMS and everyone I’ve had the privilege of meeting and learning from during my time. My mind is certain that the museum life is the life for me – who would have thought that of the little girl running around dressed as King Arthur thirteen years ago!

A highlight for me has to be Curator Oliver Bone giving a short talk at the 90th Birthday meal on the recipe for success in a museum. A main ingredient Oliver concluded with was love, which I completely understand. During my traineeship I really have met brilliant people and been part of amazing things, and these have come from love – peoples love for history, for wonderful objects, for constant curiosity, for learning, for friendship, and so many more things I could mention.
Thank you for everything, signing out!

Tabitha Runacres
Heritage Learning Trainee
Ancient House Museum, and the Fenland Lives & Land Project.

Autumn Activities

It hardly feels like autumn, what with the great weather we’ve had for most of September and October. It hardly feels as though I’ve been a Skills For the Future trainee for over a year now; it has passed so quickly. Now we are well into our seasonal work and are back hedge laying and picking apples for the upcoming ‘Apple Day’ event, and the leaves are beginning to turn their golden yellows, reds and browns I am reminded of all that I’ve done over the last twelve months and the experiences I have had. It’s been a heck of a ride!

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I’ve picked up a range of new skills in practical conservation such as fen and meadow cutting, reed bed restoration work, coppice work and fencing; not to mention the opportunities to get experience with different tools and machinery, and also some great individual projects like beekeeping and species’ monitoring work around the farm. The work I was able to do what the ‘nature watch’ cameras during the nesting season will be especially remembered by me; being able to watch our resident Barn Owl pair successfully raise a brood was a real treat- this year hasn’t really felt like ‘work’ at all!!

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Right now the focus is on preparation for ‘Apple Day’. I have been getting the materials ready for a demonstration of traditional hedge laying and will be preparing a hedge in the Orchard for the event this weekend. In addition, we have been out picking apples from the many old and indigenous varieties we have at the site. These have been carefully boxed and displayed in the Roots Building down on the farm, ahead of the event on Sunday where they’ll be shown to our local experts in attendance; who’ll try to name any unknown varieties before the apples are taken for use in ‘scrumping’. This is where the apples are crushed in presses to make juice for sale during the day. Everyone will get the chance to taste the produce from our trees including some very old varieties that have originated in the county.

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Apple Day has fond memories for me. Last year was my first, and also the first time I’d ever attempted hedge laying. This year I will have had a whole season behind me in which I’ve (hopefully!) improved somewhat in the art. I hope to be able to demonstrate each stage in the process, from cutting and clearing a section ready for laying, through making the correct cut in the chosen stem to be laid (known as a ‘pleacher’), and also the structural work such as preparing posts and ‘heatherings’; long, decorative stems of hazel that are woven between each post and act to bind the structure together.

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It’s shaping up to be another great day. I have a busy week ahead of me to get everything ready whilst I’m still on work placements and keeping up with my NPTC diploma coursework. I hope the glorious autumn weather returns in time for Sunday and we have plenty of visitors to make the day even better than last year!

Daniel Johnson
Landscape Conservation Trainee
Skills For the Future

Hello from the education department at Gressenhall!

We’re now well into the new school year and we have begun delivering a major new school event about the Neolithic period. The team has spent a lot of the summer holidays developing sessions for the event: a ‘special things’ session, a farming session, a hunting session and a shelter session. We will have a turn at delivering each of the sessions- so far I have delivered Special Things (which includes an object-finding and handling session in our First Farmers Gallery, plus making a clay pot) and Shelter (where children find out about Neolithic homes, and have a go at making their own shelter). It has been a really useful experience to see how a session is developed and then to run and evaluate it. It’s also interesting to be in the same position as the rest of the team- usually everyone else has delivered a session lots of times whilst I’m new to everything. This time it was new to all of us!

Another new school event will be starting shortly- the new primary curriculum requires children to learn about life within living memory, and in response to this we will be offering a 1950s event for Key Stage 1 children. I have been researching life in the 1950s, getting toys and television footage (including a truly terrifying Gerry Anderson show called Torchy the Battery Boy- look it up if you’ve never seen it!), and most importantly sourcing items for the 1950s-themed doll’s house which we’ll be using to illustrate what a home would have looked like during this period. I never had a doll’s house as a child, so a fascinating (and slightly bizarre) new miniature world has been opened up to me!

Some of the growing collection of doll’s house furniture, complete with cat and mouse

Some of the growing collection of doll’s house furniture, complete with cat and mouse

In addition to preparing for our new events, I have once again been helping to run our Early Years group, Muddy Museum Café. Our most recent session was about tractors, so we set up a tractor training run (with the children role-playing as tractors) in our farmhouse garden. They then painted and decorated cardboard tractors, which had been lovingly made by me and our Live Interpretation Officer, Rachel. (Who knew it could take almost a whole day to glue together cereal boxes and loo rolls!?)

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The fleet of tractors ready to be decorated

The farmhouse garden converted into a tractor training run

The farmhouse garden converted into a tractor training run

 

 

 

 

 

I recently shadowed our Visitor Services Trainee, Lydia, to get an idea of the multitude of different tasks carried out by our Front of House team. I realised just how hard the team works to keep the museum looking lovely and clean, and making sure that all of our visitors are having a good time.

I’ve also had the opportunity to attend training sessions which will be very valuable for my professional development. As Tabitha, another Learning Trainee, mentioned in her blog, we and the other SftF trainees attended an Understanding Museums course; one of the convenors being Gressenhall’s first curator. In two short days Bridget and her colleague Nicola were able to give us a great insight into the heritage sector, including the history of museums, how to use objects and stories in museums, governance, ethics and much more. Coming from a different sector I found this course really helpful and it was something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do without my traineeship.

For the remainder of my time here I’ll be doing lots more training, including Forest Schools Level 1, Paediatric First Aid, becoming an Arts Award adviser and several sessions by SHARE Museums East, who put on free training for museum staff and volunteers in the East of England. However the main bulk of my training over the next three months will be a foundation course run by the Group for Education in Museums, giving me specialised training in museum learning. I believe there are still a couple of places left on the course if anyone is interested.

One of the great things about doing a traineeship at Gressenhall is the opportunity to work with different departments, to get as broad an experience as possible. Over the summer holidays I was able to work with the Events team to deliver informal learning sessions such as Art Attack!, a themed art session which took place every day of the holidays. I also helped with one of our biggest public events, Village at War, which took place at the end of August and saw thousands of visitors coming to commemorate both the First and Second World Wars. One of the highlights of the two-day event was a flypast by a Lancaster. I was in role at the event as a 1940s shopkeeper, handing out rations of sweets to the under-18s and selling Spitfire badges to raise money for the Battle of Britain Memorial Fund. Many thanks to everyone who bought a badge! I’ll be joining the Events team again soon for our Hallowe’en event on the 30th and 31st October. More details about the event are on the main page of Gressenhall’s website– do come along!

Selling Spitfire badges at Village at War

Selling Spitfire badges at Village at War

Hello from the New Heritage Learning Trainee

Hi everyone! My name is Rebecca and I’m the new Heritage Learning Trainee here at Gressenhall.

Before coming to Gressenhall I had trained as a teacher and was volunteering in museums as I knew I wanted to work in Heritage Education. I am very lucky to be given the opportunity both to gain specialist training and to be working on such a lovely site (I am quite glad that our office is in the museum rather than on the farm, as I don’t think I’d get any work done with the temptation of piglets, lambs, a foal and even a farm cat so close by!).

I have been at Gressenhall for a month now which has flown by. We have had school groups visiting almost every day since I started so I have been doing lots of observation and helping out with sessions such as Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, Homes Long Ago, Home Front Heroes, Victorian Activity Days and Homes or Habitats- if you’re interested, you can find out more about our school sessions here: http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Learning/Gressenhall/index.htm

I have been looking at the different ways the education team interpret the site, how sessions need to be tailored to different age groups, and how to get children interacting with the site and our collections. Of course, learning in a museum environment is quite different to learning in a classroom- I am beginning to develop an understanding of this and look forward to discovering more over the course of my traineeship.

Bertie the soldier telling children about his time at the Front

Bertie the soldier telling children about his time at the Front

Last week we piloted a new session for Key Stage 2 called Annie’s War, which centres on World War 1. It was very interesting from my perspective to see a session being run for the first time; what the challenges were and how everything was prepared. Thankfully everything went well and the feedback from schools was positive!

Hoeing the field for Olive the Land Girl with the help of one of our Suffolk Punch horses

Hoeing the field for Olive the Land Girl with the help of one of our Suffolk Punch horses

I have also been helping with Muddy Museum Café, Gressenhall’s weekly Early Years session where we read a story, then have play and arts & crafts related to the story. For example, last week we read ‘Portside Pirates’ before going off to the woods to hunt for treasure, make pirate sashes and bandanas, and finally decorate parrots to take home. Having trained as a secondary teacher it is a real pleasure to be able to work with little ones, especially as we see the same children each week- a rare occurrence in museum learning!

Currently I am preparing a fairytale trail for our Once Upon a Time Key Stage 1 event. This has involved sourcing and photographing lots of fairytale characters. I even had to ‘uglify’ a duckling- not something I ever thought I’d be doing as part of my job! Another unexpected task later this week will be getting to dress up as an Ugly Sister, again as part of Once Upon a Time- I’m so excited! (Oh no she isn’t!) (I really am)

The now Ugly Duckling ready to go out on our Fairytale Trail

The now Ugly Duckling ready to go out on our Fairytale Trail

The summer holidays are rapidly approaching, which means no school groups for a few weeks. This is a chance to catch up on planning and administration, as the team are busy delivering during term-time. The Events team will be putting on family learning activities throughout the holidays, which I am looking forward to seeing, and then we’ll be gearing up for the new academic year when I will hopefully be doing lots more delivery.

I’m having a great time learning from Jan, Katie, Rachel in the Education team and all the other staff at Gressenhall, and can’t wait to find out what other weird and wonderful things I’ll be doing in the name of museum learning!

Rebecca Hunt, Heritage Learning 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