Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Next Steps

Looking Back-

Creating A Stir successfully engaged Gressenhall Museum with lots of traditionally hard-to-reach groups. The immediate and local legacy of the project is threefold: 
  • an increased awareness of (and visits to) our museum from those groups and others like them 
  • an increased sense of ownership of the museum from local people
  • an increased understanding of real life for different types of people living and working in the Victorian Workhouse. 

Participants in the project will also have been encouraged to think about the contemporary relevance of issues we spoke about, such as poverty, rural isolation, institutionalisation, the welfare state and so on.  

A particularly strong outcome for Creating a Stir was the new working relationship built between Gressenhall Museum and HMP Wayland. Piloting this simple model in which museums are shown to work so positively with prisons has potential for much wider significance: watch this space!

And Looking Forward-

My next Learning & Engagement Project is called 'Brick By Brick'. There will be three parts to each session:

  • Groups will visit Gressenhall to look at the fabric of the beautiful Georgian building and how it changed after 1834 to accommodate the new Poor Law, including the graffiti left by the residents. 
  • We'll also be thinking about the intended function of walls in general; how they protect, divide, exclude, group, isolate, support, imprison and so on. 
  • Finally we'll be thinking about the invisible walls that people build around themselves. We all hold secrets, and things are rarely the same on the inside as they seem on the outside. Participants will each make and decorate a cardboard brick, putting a secret, a wish or a memory inside it, and sealing it up.

Oooooooh, sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Please contact me if you are in Norfolk and you'd like to visit with your group!

Spoons 7- and so it continued...

During the early part of 2016 I continued to work on Creating a Stir with twenty very disparate groups. 

Those involved included museums visitors, youth groups, staff and volunteers, a Brownie Guide group, groups for the elderly, library groups and people of all ages with mental, physical and psychological additional needs from all over Norfolk. Some local publicity when I visited King's Lynn Museum is available here.

We revisited HMP Wayland as planned and worked with another PIPE group and a group from the Personality Disorder Unit. Our model for working with HM Prisons looks likely to be rolled out throughout the county, and potentially beyond, as part of the national Museums in Prisons initiative.

Every group was different and I learned to assess their likely needs and abilities very quickly on arrival. I learned that flexibility of my delivery style, along with clear communication between myself and the group leader, was critical to the success of each session.

There were 248 workhouse inmates listed on the 1871 census. My target was to represent all of them by making at least that number of spoon dolls, but to aim for 300. The final total?

367 !!!!!


This means I have worked with well over 300 individuals on the project (a few participants made more than one spoon doll- and a few got sent in). An excellent result.

I devised and delivered the 'Creating a Stir' project in my role of Learning & Engagement Officer for the Voices From The Workhouse redevelopment. 

'Creating a Stir' has enabled the stories, objects and documents relating to Gressenhall Workhouse to engage with a greater and more varied audience than any of us expected. My numerous participants also had the opportunity to
get involved in hands-on learning about the workhouse. They also tell me they are delighted to be able to make a tangible contribution to the redisplay thereby gaining a sense of ownership of this major local landmark. 

Every single spoon doll will be displayed when the workhouse museum re-opens- do come along and see the miniature throng! Oh, er, yes, and the new galleries, of course...

I took photos of all the spoon people; sometimes in groups, and sometimes individually. All these photos will be on display, in addition to the dolls, at the Grand Re-Opening of the Workhouse displays this summer. In the meantime here are a few more...

 And finally... we all had fun!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Spoons 6: HMP Wayland

I was approached by staff at HMP Wayland to work with them as part of a wider 'Museums in Prisons' initiative. 
My line manager, Jan, and I met with staff from a prison unit called the PIPE (Psychologically Informed Planned Environment) to discuss the best way of working together. 

The PIPE has a much higher staff-to-prisoner ratio, so is able to create a more informal environment than in standard units. In the PIPE, prisoners are able to experience more variety in their daily activities and interactions and they also receive an increased amount of psychological and well-being intervention. By providing a 'step-down' from the usual prison routine, the PIPE's aim is to assist the prisoners' transition to life outside, and to reduce re-offending rates, after their release.

The prison staff felt that a Creating a Stir session with prisoners who had self-selected to do it would make the ideal introduction to the idea of Museums in Prisons, with a view to running more in-depth training on things like museum display text over future months.

Security checks all completed, Jan and I took the kit -including the prosthetic leg- to HMP Wayland on 11th November. 

Any nerves we may have had (and we did) soon vanished with the warm welcome we received. My only personal experience of prison was, thankfully, watching episodes of 'Porridge', but there was no ominous door-slamming here, just a lot of locking and unlocking as we passed through. 

The prisoners themselves were all very polite, good-humoured and interested. Inevitably we had some lengthy discussions on the similarities between a Victorian workhouse and a modern day prison, but the conversation also broadened out to include topics such as women's rights, rural poverty, homelessness and all manner of contemporary issues. One man dressed up in the workhouse inmates costume, to the accompaniment of a few ribald remarks; all the men engaged in the discussion and the activity.

The spoon doll-making itself was great fun. Though almost all the men declared themselves incapable of doing it, they all made tremendously individual little figures, with lots of details. They all seemed delighted to be involved in the project and, like the workhouse inmates of long ago, pleased to have their voices heard in this small way.

After the success of the day, prison staff were keen to run another session with another volunteer group of prisoners, so we'll return in January. All in all it was an incredibly positive experience for everyone involved.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Spoons 5: Sweet Arts

Sweet Arts is a not-for-profit organisation working to empower women to make choices that improve their health, employability prospects and wellbeing. I got out of the November rain to visit their beautiful art room with my box of spoons and the workhouse objects and documents. 

As an unexpected bonus it was Cake Day. In a lovely relaxed atmosphere we chatted about the workhouse and the Voices project and made spoon dolls.
But not just any spoon dolls! No gingham or hessian for these dolls!
This was a case of 'Cinderella, you shall go to the ball'. The group members made the most glamorous and imaginative outfits for their dolls, using their own vast selection of fabrics, sequins, tassels and lace in a vivid array of colours.
They felt sorry for the workhouse inmates from the stories I'd told. I guess this was a way to make their dreams come true- albeit in doll form! 
So in addition to the ninjas and aliens from half term, Gressenhall Workhouse now numbers amongst its inmates a crocheted Cinderella, a Geisha in a paper skirt, and a rock star in Wonderwoman pyjamas. 

Beautiful work from these talented and creative ladies:

Those silenced voices from the workhouse of 1777 were shouting about their individuality loud and clear today!

Spoons 4: Half Term

October Half Term 2015 brought the kiddywinks to Gressenhall in their droves. With a Creating a Stir target of 300 dolls to meet, and a closed museum from November to March, this seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. We got the total up to 85, and, children being children, the workhouse inmates now include a Ninja, a triclops alien, and someone made almost entirely of buttons. 

This photo shows a trio of workhouse gentlemen, made by a trio of 5 year-old boys. You can't see it, but these dolls will always be warm, because they are wearing vests. Their creators were most insistent upon it.

Here are the Ninja, the Triclops, and Mr Buttons:

There were so many gorgeous dolls made; too many for this blog, but all will appear at the Grand Re-Opening of the workhouse next summer.
 Here are some families happy at work in the doll factory:

And finally... here's a group shot :

Spoons 3: Youth Forum

As Learning & Engagement Officer for the project, I've started a Voices from the Workhouse Youth Forum with yr8 & 9 students from Neatherd High School in Dereham. Here they are trying some tasty gruel on their first visit.

Our remit is to assess and evaluate all the new displays and interactives at Gressenhall. We've used our experiences of other museums and heritage sites, both on line and in 'real life' to put together a selection of workhouse-themed activities of our own. We'll be inviting families and friends to try them out as part of  Kids in Museums Takeover Day on November 20th. 

Of course the students needed to learn about the workhouse too. I gave them a tour of the site and told them lots of the stories from the archives. I also showed them some of our workhouse objects and they tried on some replica workhouse uniforms (not always the right ones!):

We also made spoons dolls for 'Creating a Stir'. Here they are having fun making them...

Teachers too!!

And here are the finished dolls!