How to craft fantastic fossils!


Hello, Esme and Tim here!

Over half term, we created and led a free children’s craft activity for ‘Go Live! Fantastic Fossils’ at the Natural History Museum. We were joined by experts from Geo Suffolk, who were identifying fossils, answering questions from budding geologists and showcasing interesting finds from the local area.


To create our activity, we started by looking at the craft resources available at the museum and then spent a bit of time swotting up on Pinterest. After getting excited about salt dough fossils (messy), fossils shapes in ice (messy) and giant, archaeological sandbox digs (also messy), we reigned in our imaginations and produced something simple enough for children to make, but with enough stages that they could feel like they had achieved something.

If you missed our fantastic fossils event, or just want something fun and crafty to do, then here is our guide to making your very own ammonite or fish fossil!

To make an Ammonite you will need:

  • 1 sheet of paper
  • 2 pipe cleaners (any colour)
  • 4 cotton buds (cut in half)
  • Sticky tape
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper (brown is best but any colour will do)
  • Lots of glue! (a glue stick works well)


Step 1: Make your paper really, really gluey. The more the better!

Step 2: Stick one end of the pipe cleaner to the middle of the paper using sticky tape.


Step 3: Curl this in a loose spiral shape and use sticky tape to fix it to the paper like below.


Step 4: Take the second pipe cleaner and line it up with the end of the first. Fix it to the paper with sticky tape and continue to curl it around. Your spiral shape should now be looking something like this:


Step 5: Take the cotton bud halves and place them inside the spiral with equal spaces between each one.

Step 6: Do you need any more glue? Check that the glue is still sticky and hasn’t dried… if it has add more around the inside and outside of the spiral, and cover bits of the sticky tape too.


Step 7: Place the tissue paper over the top of the ammonite shape (make sure that it is fully covered) and press down… use your finger to press in the gaps between the cotton buds.


Step 8: Draw a line around the shape leaving a gap.

Step 9: Cut along the line using scissors. Ask an adult if you need help.


Step 10: Ta-da! Hold it up to the window to see the details of the fossilised creature. You are now the owner of an ancient Ammonite!

…To make a fish you will need:

  • 1 sheet of paper
  • 1 pipe cleaner (any colour)
  • 4 cotton buds (cut 3 in half)
  • Sticky tape
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper (brown is best, but any colour will work)
  • Lots of glue!

Step 1: The messy bit again! Put lots and lots of glue onto the paper.


Step 2: Cut the pipe cleaner in half and make two triangle shapes like above. These are for the head and tail. Add sticky tape if they won’t stick to the paper.


Step 3: Use one cotton bud for the backbone and cut three cotton buds in half to make the ribs. Don’t worry if these don’t stick down very well, as the tissue paper will hold them in place.


Step 4: Put tissue paper over the fish bones and press down. Use your fingers to get in between the gaps.


Step 5: Draw a line around the outside, leaving a bit of a gap.

Step 6: Cut along the line using scissors. Ask an adult if you need help.


Step 7: Voila! Hold it up to the light to reveal it’s details. You are now the owner of a fossilised fish!

We hope you enjoy making these. Maybe you could invent a dinosaur fossil?!

Till next time,

Esme and Tim

It was a ELY good conference.


Tim here again, and Esme too!

Today, we’re reporting on the SHARE Children and Young People conference that we were lucky enough to attend last week at Ely Cathedral.

Firstly, the venue was amazing (totally worth the less than toasty temperature). Ely has one of the most impressive cathedrals around, which definitely demands a day to itself sometime.

There were some excellent speakers including our own Rachel McFarlane (Projects Development Officer) and Em Clarke (Visitor Services Assistant and former Trainee), who gave a talk on the perceptions of who works in a museum, particularly from children. Special mention however, must surely go to the group of primary school students who bravely stood up and delivered their thoughts on the pros and cons of museums. They spoke eloquently on how museums could be improved for their age range. It was heartening to note that many of their suggestions were already being implemented in Colchester. It was also useful to hear their thoughts on age-appropriate areas/activities, as opposed to just defining things as either “adult” or “child”.

Halfway through, the delegates were split into groups. They were then briefed and taken to a local court to re-enact the aftermath of the Littleport Riots, which took place in 1816. This was great fun and showed how history can be brought alive for young (and old) people.

During lunch we had the opportunity to network and visit The Stained Glass Museum (who later gave a very interesting presentation about being a small museum within another attraction). Bedford Creative Arts also delivered a really interesting talk, including a great tool to use when reaching out to new audiences. Essentially, the idea is to imagine yourself as the owner of a pizzeria and you want to sell to a specific, cultural group who live locally. This group may have certain requirements/regimes, but other than that, you don’t know much about them. What do you do to get them into your restaurant?

Overall, the conference was informative and enjoyable, with every speaker making interesting points. We’re really glad we got the opportunity to attend. It would be easy to write a whole essay on our time there, but sadly we have to dash off now and make some fossilised fish out of pipe cleaners. Confused? All will be revealed, right here in the next couple of weeks!

Until then, this is Tim and Esme signing off.

Harry Potter Book Night at Ipswich Museum


Salutations Muggle’s. Expelliarmus!……  Mark reporting.

Last Thursday evening, we were going mad for all things wizardy at Ipswich Museum, as we hosted a Harry Potter Book Night event. Staff dressed up in an array of costumes and the Museum was decorated from top to bottom with magical props. Michael, Tim and I had all hands on deck. With the rest of our brilliant team and helpful freelancers, we knew this was going to be a blast!

Of course you might ask: what has Harry Potter got to do with the Museum? Firstly, local museums are an interesting environment to host events, as they contain historic collections found nowhere else. Secondly, and most importantly, as a public venue, we want to welcome as many different people as we can. One way to do this is by putting on events that appeal to a diverse range of people. That way, after having a fun experience at the museum, they will perhaps make another visit at a later point, thus achieving our aims.

Visitors were greeted as they arrived in a Harry Potter fashion, with smiling faces and clear instructions for their fun night ahead. You could have your photo taken in our ‘Mirror of Erised’ booth in the Anglo Saxon gallery; take a lesson in Potions, where you could make Immersion Elixiers (bath bombs) to take away; or even handle some magical creatures, which included snakes, toads and ferrets! There was much to get involved in and, even though I was working, it was a lot of fun, especially with the dramatic Harry Potter music getting my pulse racing!

Soon enough it was time to close the doors. Time sure flies when you’re having fun! I believe the evening was a roaring success, as the visitors seemed to really enjoy the activities we put on. It was such a great feeling to know that you’ve helped run an event on such a large scale like this. I also believe it did help achieve our aim of bringing a different audience to the museum, as I noticed plenty of people interested in our objects! Every time people flowed into the main museum building, the shiny glitter of the Wickham Hoard caught their eye.

That’s all from me.


Copped Hall in restoration


Often, I have heard it said that once you are working in heritage and museums, whenever you visit places of interest, you will view them with very different eyes to others.

Recently, I paid a visit to a very interesting heritage site and former neighbour of Rod Stewart, Copped Hall, in Epping. I found that as I wandered around, without even realising, I was consolidating our Trainee learning in this unfamiliar environment.

Restoration at the hall is currently underway to return the building and gardens to their former glory. Having stood high up overlooking the M25 for many years, with wind whistling through its shell, it was once possible to see through un-glazed windows from one side of the building to the other when driving past. Major structural renovations have been underway since 2001 and it is still pretty chilly there today, but much progress has been made by the Copped Hall Trust.

Outside, a large walled garden with glass houses can be found. Having been once handcrafted by talented blacksmiths, the gates are now heavily corroded, in need of TLC (tender loving conservation) and repairs to losses, especially on fine areas of detail.

Inside, the building is presented as it is – a work in progress.


By being invited into the building site as part of a guided tour, it is possible to gain an understanding of both the history of the Hall and the huge project that is underway to restore the spaces. In 1917, a fire caused much destruction. The building was beyond financial repair for relatives and was stripped of anything of value, including staircases!


Now, the challenge is to creatively tell the story of the hall. I loved how features, which would have been expensive to restore, were imaginatively (and much more cheaply!) recreated using design and interpretation, such as the ‘marble’ fireplace above. These extra touches to the bare rooms bring the space to life in a clever and simple way.

Travelling through the building works, I found myself agreeing with the guide that the site (although cold!) is in a very relaxed and approachable form in its current state. Sometimes, less is more and I noticed that it is possible to learn much about the history of the building just from reading the walls and using your imagination. Simple interpretation, placed on bare walls at various places of importance, make this even easier, aiding storytelling.


Furniture, objects and clothing on display at the site are currently a little more sacrificial than many conservators might like, but this gives a raw and authentic feeling. Even if they are not always original to the location, objects on display have a functional nature and illustrate life at the hall well.

The spaces are also brilliant for use for education and events. School groups regularly visit and there is an education programme in place. Volunteers and staff have been working hard to create event. The line up includes a pudding tasting evening (yum!), workshops, open gardens, concerts, theatre and archaeological digs.

Overall I found Copped Hall to be a fascinating place, and learnt much from my visit. It will be very interesting to see how it develops further in the future.

Oh, and if you happen upon the original front gates there is a £1000 reward!

See you soon, Esme.




Drawing the Object


Hello everyone, Michael here.

There is a hidden treasure in Ipswich Museum! A group of objects that are rarely, if ever seen by the general public. These are the Accession Registers, a group of unique books cataloging each object that has come in. They have a very important function. They help curators, conservators and researchers understand exactly what we have, when it came into the collection, how and where from.

I feel very privileged to be handling these books as part of my  work on the Collections Information Programme. Ipswich Museums are currently updating and digitising all the information about their objects. This is a mammoth task when you consider that there are around 77,000! Some of my time is spent photographing objects or transferring information from index cards onto a spreadsheet. I’ve also been packing and unpacking items and recording where they are located.


Part of researching an object can involve looking it up in the Accession Register. These beautiful, decade by decade records are often hand written. They are full of carefully observed drawings and elegant hand-writing, and I have become a little obsessed with the simple beauty of the drawings. They are both elegant and functional. I love to draw. I find it the best way to really study what a thing looks like, so I find it fascinating to see how carefully these objects have been rendered. They seem to be mostly anonymous and the fact that they are hidden away in a book, inside a locked cupboard demonstrates the humility and dedication of the draughtsmen.

To me, they are quiet little masterpieces. I love the warmth and humanity that is conveyed in the simplicity of the black ink lines. They make me think of all the dedicated curators and museum illustrators that have come before me in this building. The examples I have used are from the 1920 register, but there are many, many more.

That’s all for now. I need to get back to those Accession Registers…



Going Underground


Hello, friends!

This is Tim reporting from Ipswich for a change. I’m here helping them organise Ipswich Museum’s upcoming Harry Potter Book Night. Very exciting!

Despite the different town, this week I’d like to tell you about the school tours at Colchester Castle…

The Castle run two different tours for visiting school groups: ‘Castles as Homes’, which includes a trip up the great stairs to the roof and ‘Celts and Romans’, which takes place in the Roman foundations. Although both of these areas can be accessed during daily guided tours, they are not places that can be seen as part of a visitor’s standard entry.

So far, I have focussed on ‘Celts and Romans’, as I spend most of my time in the Castle on the upper gallery (where the collections from that period are housed). Having watched every member of Visitor Services perform a schools tour at least once, I can safely say that everyone has their own style. So, when it came to me taking a group of 30  children down to the vaults, I wondered what my style would turn out to be! Having done two tours so far, I try to incorporate the best elements and techniques I have seen, but in the end I think the best advice I received (from more-or-less everybody) was to be myself.

Everyone must convey the same information and tell the same story. Some people are natural storytellers who can keep children totally absorbed without lifting a finger, others are like a post-MTV Generation whirlwind, flying around the space, not giving even the shortest attention-span a chance to wander. Some make it dramatic, others make it funny. Without a doubt though, the universally successful tactic they all employ is to involve the children. Ask them questions. It’s incredible the amount some already know and how much better they retain the information when it isn’t all just handed to them.

The tour begins by the well at the entrance to the Castle. We then descend the steps to the vaults (which conveniently add up to the amount of years “back in time” we go if you multiply their number by 100).

As you can see from the pictures, we have to be incredibly careful of bumping our heads on the very low stone arches! In the first room we talk about the Iron Age Britons and why the Romans decided to take over the country. After telling them about the Temple of Claudius, we ask the children to look at the shape of the room they are in. We then un-latch the bottom of the model temple, revealing a cutaway of the foundations. Some of the children instantly understand, some take a minute more, but their faces when they work out that they’re sitting in the Roman temple foundations is one of the highlights of every tour for me.

Next, we talk about how the temple was built (which occasionally involves “cutting off” a teacher’s head as a warning to the other “slaves”) and how they would feel if they were treated this way. These feelings of discontent lead nicely onto the final part of the story tour: Boudica’s rebellion.

iron-age-britonIt’s really fun and rewarding doing the tours. It is especially gratifying when you later see the same group exploring the Castle and recognise elements from the story. Often, families I speak to on the galleries have had their trip instigated by a son or daughter who came with their school and wanted to share the experience with their family. I cannot wait to do more tours, though it may be a while before I’m brave/ knowledgeable enough to “storm the Castle” with the really young children doing ‘Castles as Homes’!

Until next time, this is Tim signing off.


Increasing Diversity In the Museum Workforce conference

Diversity Conference 6


Happy New Year everyone! It’s Mark again!

I hope all of you have had an excellent Christmas holiday. I can’t believe it is 2017 already!

Despite it being the New Year, I would like to take us back to 2016 for this post, as I recently attended a very interesting conference at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, about increasing diversity in the workforce.

I went with Rachel McFarlane (Projects Development Officer) and we were joined by around fifty other delegates from museums and organisations around the East of England.

During the conference, Rachel and I were to give a presentation about the on going work at Colchester + Ipswich Museums and in particular, how we have approached the topic of diversity. Of course it was Rachel who led our presentation, showcasing the variety of work from The Training Museum.

I had some time to shine though, as I also was able to speak! I was shaking when I approached the stage, but my delivery was successful. I started by talking about my experience prior to becoming a Trainee, in terms of the volunteering work I had previously undertaken and also the process of applying for the traineeship. Additionally, I was able to touch upon various projects I was in the middle of. I even sat on the question panel, looking rather professional!


The other delegates that attended seemed very impressed with our presentation. I had some nice compliments and even exchanged contact details with some who shall be very useful contacts in the future…

As well as our contribution, I found the other presentations interesting. I was particularly impressed with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, as the speakers were very engaging with the audience. I also enjoyed meeting our counterparts in Norwich, as I have heard about their work and visited the Castle many times. It was a pleasure to be involved in an event they held.

Before long the conference came to an end and it was time to take the train home. It was a fantastic day and I have more ideas about diversity than ever before!

That’s all from me.