A Hundred Warm Welcomes

Hello, Michael here again.

I’ve just found out that this is the 100th blog post from The Training Museum Trainees! I know that pomp, ceremony and fireworks are required for this significant event, so I hope you are suitably uplifted by the end of it.

Whilst working at Ipswich Museums, I have been struck by the efforts of everyone here to make people welcome. It happens at all levels, from Visitor Services to the curatorial teams, from event and workshop organisers to the design and exhibitions team. I don’t think museums were always this open and friendly, but luckily times have changed.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, I was very interested in drawing and painting. Most of my inspiration came from comics and cartoons. I was from a working class, immigrant family living in inner city Manchester. We weren’t the kind of people that went to museums or were even particularly aware that they existed. Our local school never made a visit to one.

I first noticed Manchester City Art Gallery when I was thirteen. I had walked past a few times on the way to the shops. Though I loved to paint and draw, I had no idea that I might be allowed to go into this building. I noticed that people went in and came out, and that there was a uniformed man at the door, who I assumed would not let me in. The building was very grand, looking like a classical temple with a huge flight of stone steps up to the front door. I stopped and looked several times, occasionally climbing those steps, but never making it through the entrance. The man in uniform glared at the scruffy boy stood outside looking in and I knew it was not a place for me.


I didn’t give up. My interest in art was growing and I was an inquisitive little chap. I found The Whitworth Art Gallery whilst walking my dog Patch. It was a friendlier looking building with an entrance at ground level. Eventually my curiosity got too much. I tied Patch up to the railings and ventured through the door. Nobody stopped me. The guard looked and said nothing. I WAS IN! What I saw there fueled my passion for art and art history, shaping my choice of future career. From that point on, there was no stopping me. When I came out, I realised that Patch had been making a terrible noise all that time and had disturbed all the visitors to the gallery.


I can safely say that museums and galleries have changed my life, which is why it is so wonderful to see how much effort Ipswich Museums put into encouraging people to enter. There is always a friendly smile when you arrive, along with an offer of help. The museum is free for everyone and genuinely attracts a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are signs outside to coax you in, as well as encouragement to feel comfortable in the building. This is so important, as our museums and galleries belong to all of us. It’s great to be a small part of this warm welcome.


Maybe the best way to celebrate this 100th blog post is to think of the hundreds and hundreds of warm welcomes that museums offer members of the public each and every day.



Do not adjust your blog

Hello! Tim once again with the key(board) to the blog!

It feels like so much has been going on lately that our feet have hardly touched the ground – what with conferences, training, external placements (more on that soon!), events, networking, flying to Scotland for another conference… you get the idea!

Throughout all of this though, there was something that I promised myself I would not forget to blog about: the wittily titled “Improv Your Museum” training at Essex Records Office in Chelmsford. So, albeit three weeks after I attended it, here we go…

I really have my fellow Trainee, Esme to thank for this. She and I were talking one day about how difficult performing an improvised stand-up set would be. The next thing I knew, she had emailed me a link to this training! ‘Improv Your Museum’ is a workshop run by two members of the comedy group Do Not Adjust Your Stage. It consisted of a series of exercises normally used by the group as warm-ups prior to going on stage, or at their regular sessions. With the help of Matt Stevens and Tim Grewcock, we were shown how these games, which utilised improvisation and quick thinking, could be used to improve our museum practice.

The training was organised by the Heritage Education Group, who were kind enough to let me sit in on their meeting before the workshop. I really appreciated this, as I learnt a lot about what was happening in the various museums in the area and met many interesting people.

I won’t bore you with specific details of every exercise, but suffice to say that they all revolved around certain rules/ideas. Two of the most important were “do not deny the other person” and “make the other person look as good as possible”. This can be applied to talking to visitors on the galleries. If they say something you know to be totally inaccurate, do not brutally shut them down and make them feel stupid in front of others. Instead, think on your feet and politely accept their suggestion/viewpoint, whilst tactfully explaining the correct facts.

Other games focused more on simply being aware of other people and anticipating actions/reactions, which is especially important in Visitor Services. Judging the mood/reactions of a visitor can mean the difference between enriching their visit and boring them or making them feel uncomfortable.

One of my favourite exercises illustrated the use of these skills well. The “gift giving game” (as I will call it) involved pairing up, with one person continually presenting imaginary gifts to their partner. The recipient must then accept the gift and say why/how it will be useful to them. After a time the roles are then reversed. As well as being fun, this was good practice for not denying others, thinking on your feet, improvising in potentially unusual circumstances (the gift could be anything!) and building confidence.

Overall, I found the workshop not only fun but also really useful. It made me think differently about interaction with others and gave me new ways to consider approaching situations. The representatives of Do Not Adjust Your Stage said that they love going round different museums and delivering this training, so if you get the chance I would highly recommend it.

Next time on Tim’s posts: West Stow Anglo Saxon Village

See you then!


Moving on Up


Hello everyone! Mark reporting on behalf of all the Trainees.

It feels like a lifetime since I was last in the office. There is much to catch up on, but fortunately I have some time to tell you about our fantastic trip to Edinburgh, alongside what the other Trainees thought.


Here we are at Stansted airport. We had to get up bright and early in order to catch our flight. We arrived in Edinburgh safe and sound, excited for what was in store. Tim and I even bagged a selfie!

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, it was time for the first event of the trip. Thanks to the efforts of our wonderful line manager, Lib (Museums Project Officer), we had the pleasure of meeting some Trainees from National Galleries of Scotland at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The four of us were most impressed with their range of high tech equipment, which they kindly showed us. This included their digitising process for works on paper. It allows them to successively scan an image, which is then transferred immediately to their Mac computers. All in all, we were impressed, if not slightly envious, of their facilities! They also came from diverse and interesting backgrounds, just like the four of us, ranging from leaving school to being an ex- tree surgeon.

That marked the end of the day and, after a hearty dinner, it was time for some well-earned sleep ready for tomorrow.


The big day! We all had high spirits for the itinerary ahead, as well as some butterflies in our stomachs. Moving On Up was situated at the Royal College of Surgeons, a lovely venue with the recently, redeveloped Surgeon’s Hall Museums. The day was jam-packed with keynotes, breakouts and participatory sessions. It was chaired by Hilary Carty, Freelance Consultant and Coach, and attended by experienced professionals with helpful advice. The room was mostly inhabited by those early on in their careers. Just like us, they all had their own story to tell. Our group found the speed mentoring sessions particularly helpful and constructive. We had mixed feelings about networking but nevertheless, did our best.

The conference ended with much enjoyment and happy feelings, but we were also shattered. The four of us went to bed that night, satisfied with our achievements.


Our trip sadly came to a conclusion. Here are a couple of pictures of the time we spent around the spectacle that is Edinburgh. We left this trip, enthused with fresh ideas. It was an amazing experience, which we won’t forget for a long time.

This is Mark signing off.

ps. I have been reliably informed it is National Apprenticeship Week! #NAW2017


A week of awards and conferences

Hi all, it’s Lib (I look after the Trainees and occasionally turn my hand to blogging)

As our fantastic four have been up in Edinburgh for the Museums Association Moving On Up conference this week, I thought I’d talk about the Creative & Cultural Skills national awards and conference that took place in Thurrock.

CCSkills are a national, campaigning organisation who promote access to creative careers and their awards aim to recognise excellence across different industries. The ceremony was held on Wednesday 1 March and The Training Museum team were shortlisted in the Cultural Heritage category. Myself and Emma (Collections and Learning Curator) had a fantastic evening, during which we were treated to incredible performances by Stopgap Dance Company and Pandemonium Drummers, as well as a display of pyrotechnics from Backstage Centre students.

Sadly we didn’t win (the well-deserved winner was Samantha Jackman from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery), but being runners up was a real honor.

The following day, Emma and I were awake bright and early, ready for the conference. The morning was jam-packed with speakers, ranging from current and former apprentices to the Director General of the BBC. We were delivering a breakout workshop in the afternoon on diverse recruitment, getting participants to think about the sorts of skills cultural professionals need and different ways you might assess for them.

We talked about the video interviews and group activities our Trainees had experienced, and shared their thoughts on what it was really like. Alternative recruitment methods can enable more potential candidates to shine and we hope other organisations might consider giving them a try.

Enough from me. I’ll let Mark and the team tell you all about Moving On Up when they return next week.



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.