Scary-hairy, beastly bugs…

Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian stereoscope
Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian Stereoscope

I recently attended some training about how museums can be places to improve people’s wellbeing. During the event I had the opportunity to hear some brilliant case studies from organisations across England and was touched by some of the outcomes they had achieved.  

The focus on the day was not about what people could learn from museums, or about how much success these projects bought to museum visitor figures or finances – it was about how museums can create happiness, peace of mind and in some cases a distraction for people going through difficult periods of their life.

This got me thinking about the work the Herbert do to help the wellbeing of others. For around a year now I have been going onto the children’s ward at Coventry’s University Hospital, taking with me a selection of objects from the handling collections. This initially got started through the MLA’s Learning Links programme, but has since continued, due to the positive outcomes we have seen from the work we do. I go onto the wards once a month, and spend the afternoon going around children’s bedsides, or working with them in the hospital classroom, to give the children a hands-on approach to learning and access to the museums collections during their stay in hospital. Before we launched the project I had concerns over whether or not the children would actually want to get involved with this. My feeling was that when you are in hospital you would probably want to avoid strangers because of the vulnerable state you get into when feeling ill or recovering from an operation. However, I also remembered an experience of being in hospital for the short space of a day when I was a teenager and remember it being pretty boring! So for those who are there on either a short-term or long-term basis, something a little different might just be what they are looking for. 

Luckily for me the patients, aged from 4 – 17, have really got involved with the objects I bring to their bedsides, and what makes it even nicer is that they get their parents and the hospital staff involved too. I’ve had some fantastic memories made from my time on the children’s ward, with one visit in particular standing out in my mind.

The scary-hairy tarantula

The scary-hairy tarantula

I had taken a collection of beastly bugs into the hospital (I thought this would be funny as it is what hospitals try usually to avoid at all costs), and was working with a teenage girl. She had been in and out of hospital for quite a while, and had sunk into a bit of a depression over being ill and being separated from her friends all the time. On this day, I went to her bedside and showed her the bugs I had with me. It took a bit of encouragement for her to hold the block that encased a scary-hairy tarantula, but eventually she started to explore its many qualities. After looking at this for a while she placed it down on her bedside table, at which point a nurse walked into the room to run some tests. Before she had the chance though, she spotted the tarantula and thinking it was real ran screaming from the room. The teenage girl burst into laughter, causing her mother to start laughing, then me and then the nurse who had bravely ventured back into the room realising what was going on. This itself made the experience brilliant, but what really moved me was that as I was leaving the ward for the day, the girl’s mother ran up to me to say thank you for making her daughter smile… it was the first time she had laughed in 3 weeks.

– Lisa


Posted on 25/01/2012, in Collections, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wilson would love that spider … we went to the NHM in London and they have an excellent explorer room downstairs where you can handle objects, view them under microscopes and get touchy feely with everything – brilliant

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