Category Archives: Social Inclusion

A Royal Occasion…

Factory tour at the Emma Bridgewater Factory

Factory tour at the Emma Bridgewater Factory

Over the last few weeks the Herbert Learning Team have been working with Coventry’s Sowe Valley Primary school and the elderly people’s care home that sits across from the school on an intergenerational project that focuses on the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

The aim of the project is to encourage the children and elderly people to share their memories of royal events that have happened over the last 60 years. For the children the only major event that they can remember was the Royal Wedding from last year, but for the care home residents they had a whole bank of stories, memories and even some objects that they could share with the children.

As the project has progressed we have seen the children’s knowledge of the royal family expand beyond expectations. At just 8 and 9 years old the children only really knew the basics of who the Royal family are and why we have them in England. For most of them they knew who the Queen was (phew!) and of course they recognised Wills and Kate… however they were under the impression that Prince William was the Queen’s son and Charles was her husband (oh dear!). We soon sorted that out though with a family tree activity to help them understand who’s who, the order of the family and the line of accession to the throne. After 4 weeks of working with them they can now easily tell us who Prince Charles has been married to, the name of Queen Elizabeth’s father, and who will be the next 2 future Kings of England, plus lots more.

We’ve also been using some of the museum’s royal memorabilia from the years gone by as a trigger for memories for the

Souvenirs in the making

Souvenirs in the making

care home residents, and as an inspiration for everyone to design their own royal souvenir to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. To help bring the children and elderly people together we treated them to an exciting and unique day at the Emma Bridgewater factory, where we were taken on a tour of the working factories, and saw royal souvenirs in the making and even got to make our own in the design studio. It was a brilliant day and everyone who took part spoke about how much the enjoyed themselves.

The children have grown really fond of the people they have met from the care home, and vice versa. They are always asking about when they will meet again to keep their new found relationship going. We’re glad to say their journey isn’t ending just yet as we’ll all be getting together again for a celebratory street party at the museum to celebrate the jubilee and on the day we’ll present everyone with their fired and finished potteries that they created together. And of course, even the Herbert staff got involved with everything too including sitting on a snazzy spotted throne and the more menial tasks of washing up… well it can’t all be glamorous!

I’ll post again to show you how the pottery collection turned out and what the street party was like. Until next time folks!


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Getting Involved

For the last fortnight I’ve been helping with the Herbert’s Getting Involved course. For those who don’t know, this is an accredited National Open College Network (NOCN) course for disengaged young people aged 14-19. The qualification is in team skills which the Herbert has chosen to develop through multimedia workshops. The Herbert Media team train the young people in blogging, digital photography and Photoshop, film making, pod-casting and music-making amongst other skills.

The team also hopes to engage the young people with arts and heritage, encouraging them to compare their experiences with life in times gone by. Last week we visited the Black Country Living Museum and enjoyed a day of live interpretation, traditional sweet making, fish and chips and, of course, the mining experience.

The group didn’t know each other before the course at the Herbert, but quickly gained confidence in working with new people.  It is hoped that the skills acquired on the course and the commitment their participation demonstrates will assist these young people with college applications.  Evaluation of the first fortnight of the course suggested that it had enhanced self-esteem and encouraged the pursuit of multimedia interests.  Some of the participants hope to return to the Herbert for further training or in a volunteer capacity.

Becky Harvey, Herbert Intern

Musings on the day we hand over the baton of Kids in Museums Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year to Mansfield . . .

Last month our Senior Learning Officer, Robin Johnson,  left for pastures new.  He had been here for many years, and his leaving ‘do’ featured several moving and poignant speeches by time served colleagues.   Despite working here for over 7 years, these accolades revealed new dimensions to the Herbert’s history and development and set me thinking.

Robin had joined as a former teacher, but without a specific responsibility to schools.   He joined at a similar time to several other key staff, particularly among our curators.   As Robin developed his interest in making the museum a vibrant resource for schools, his colleagues were clearly on-side, and he was given an encouraging free hand by his manager.   These values were already shared and ingrained in the organisation when new opportunities appeared, such as the “Renaissance” funding and the redevelopment.  

I’ve struck thinking the concept of leadership for our creative and curatorial work.  There feels to be very little influence from the high echelons of management on creative planning, programmes of family workshops, the summer early years exhibition and other events.  I think this is because these principles are shared so widely, so there is no need to enforce these values.  It also supports so many different agendas – drawing in big numbers, offering a unique and genuinely useful service to local people, filling gaps in the activities offered across the city, being welcoming to newcomers to Coventry and the UK . . .   It’s a ‘no brainer’.  

Talking to colleagues with experience of other museums, it seems that we’ve got it easy.   It is not uncommon for inclusion and family work to have to fight its corner against some notion of curatorial purity.   Here it has been built into every corner by the curators themselves.  There is a democratic sense doing family work that I can look to wisdom from almost everyone – from the curators suggesting facts about objects that might appeal to children, to our Front of House team feeding back how families respond to what we offer.

“Family Friendly” seems to be flavour of the month in museums (and long may it remain so).   At the Herbert, these values came from principles and never from fashion.  I’m glad to say museum staff aren’t famed for their fashion sense and we’ll stick with what’s right and sensible.

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The Last Post

‘Last and final’ tends to put pressure on things to be polished and coherent.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can promise that – this is, however, my last blog post.  A small yet significant moment in my last bit week working for the Herbert – as after two and a half years I will be moving on to pastures new.

What a two and a half years it has been! From my first day when I arrived flustered and half and hour late because the train was delayed.  Thankfully this was not held against me and I have been able to work on some fascinating and challenging projects.

One of my very first projects was to work on a project to create a Chinese community film for the British Museum. This was great fun and posed some unique puzzles.  It was great to meet the young people – I had a group of 7 to 17 year olds to work with.  We taught them about oral history and how to do interviews then they interviewed the elders on camera.  Finally, they did some paper cut animation about the stories they had heard. The quirky humour really brightened things up. All this material was edited down to make a film which was shown as part China – Journey to the East, a British Museum touring exhibition.  It was a really special moment to see the film being shown next to priceless objects from ancient China and to see the looks on the young people’s faces when they saw the finished film.

Read the rest of this entry

Peace and Youth

This November has seen an odd collision of events.  We host a number of events as part of Coventry’s annual Peace Festival, which attract many familiar and some new faces to the talks.  Sunday 14th November was both Remembrance Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.   The sense of respect for the fallen, veterans’ military pride and peace activism sit side by side and it feels taboo to explore the contradictions, despite my feeling that Coventry’s Blitz is a symbolic moment in the shift in warfare over the last 100 years, from 80% of causalities being soldiers to become 80% civilians.

Artist Presha Dem teaching air-brush skills.

The other dimension, which has made this year remarkable, is our Street Art exhibition.   The ‘in your face’ essence of street art, even in a comparatively refined gallery context, sits strangely with the respect being offered veterans in the Herbert and the neighbouring Cathedrals.

Street Art shows work that is almost universally anti-authoritarian, and much of it is social commentary and calls for peace, often revealing hypocrisy as incisively as Gillray or Hogarth. Street Art is attracting a huge number of visitors, including younger people who so rarely visit galleries, and they are responding strongly to the content, putting the lie to the idea that young people only want the vacuous culture which is sold to them.

Working on the shirts.

Mohammed Ali’s installation portrays people who have been labelled both terrorist and freedom fighter.  Ghandi’s role in history is settled, William as Ouderland is less clearly decided, and when Mohammed talked about Salah Ad-din (Saladin)’s humanity upon liberating Jerusalem in 1187, I realised the weight of historical ideology I hold around the word “liberate”. His work also includes two moving images of Coventry’s Cathedral, and a disturbing piece in which falling bombs are rendered with a beauty resonant of Islamic lattice work.

As a community project linked to Mohammed’s forthcoming event “Breaking Down the Wall”, I was working with young people involved in the “Rep Ur Endz” project – about pride in representing

The CV6 tag on the sleeve.

their districts in the city. The day after we had 2400 visitors to our Blitz family event, I asked the young men about their thoughts about remembrance happenings.  The reply “I haven’t noticed anything” left me wondering how so much civic endeavour can fail to touch thoughtful young people.

These young men are not ‘dis-engaged’ with issues of peace however. The final t-shirt proclaims “Rep Ur Endz CV3” . . . but their preliminary sketches for artwork show a sense of responsibility  and connection to the broader world.

Early artwork sketches – Rep/ Palestine Ur Endz.

Breaking down the wall: featuring Mohammed Ali painting and poets live in the Herbert takes place on Friday 19th November 7pm.

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Rep Cov, Repping Cov – Representing Coventry

The 'REP COV' banner on display at Coventry train station

You may have noticed the banner that mysteriously appeared at Coventry train station with the words REP COV tagged by Herbert and wondered what it was all about?

Or noticed the banner on railings of Coventry University outside cathedral square saying REPPING COV.

Repping Cov

With many of our temporary exhibitions we work with local groups to create community responses.  These are usually shown in the museum alongside the exhibition.  However in this case we wanted to capture the spirit of street art by putting the banners up in public locations.   Huge thanks to Virgin Trains and Coventry University for giving us permission use their locations.

This week my colleague Bring Colour has been working with young people from Positive Futures youth groups to create street art banners.  At an early stage of the design process one of the youth people wrote the words repping cov.  As I have left my youth far behind me I had to ask what he meant.  The young man explained very patiently that it means representing Coventry because that is what we do.  Then he initiated me with a fist bump.  This was picked as a theme for the banners.  In this session the young people wrote or drew some of them designed cartoon characters which were included in the final design.  Some cartoons were of themselves, friends or made up characters but all of them are repping cov.

In the next stage of the design process the young people covered the banners in colourful tags writing their names, tags or whatever was important to them.  The banners were covered in oranges, greens and yellows.  After this the cartoon characters were turned into paper cuts placed on the banner and black paint was sprayed over the surface so that when the paper cuts are removed the outlines of the characters were left behind.  Then the young people drew on details with marker pens.  As a final touch stars were added.


When we showed the final results to the young people they exclaimed in awe-struck voices “Sick”.

I am told that means they are pleased and found the banners to be very good.  Judging by the admiring looks from passers by at the university and the train station the people of Coventry are enjoying them too.

The Street Art exhibition runs until 16 January 2011 and features artworks from the V&A and  the emerging arts from the Street Art scene.

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Jack’s August blog . . .

The Big TreeTop installation for families is almost over and last week I gathered our team of facilitators around some cake to reflect on strengths and weaknesses.   One area where I feel we’ve learned a little more is in the nature of ‘Family Learning’ which for us means activities which engage the adults alongside the children. 

So in our gallery installation, adults and children playing together = good; adults as spectators = bad. 

One influence on this is seating which we place in a way that encourages participation with the children.  Last year the main seating was a giant tree-root (with a tunnel underneath) – and although it kept adults in the centre of the installation, their position meant they were looking out, rather than into the space.   This year we have some rather funky low cane seats that can be used anywhere in the space.  

We try to alter the gallery each day, so our regular visitors have a change in colours, layout and materials – and every morning the seats will be clustered around activities such as dressing up, sorting or soft toys.   But so often they are quickly moved to the walls where adults can be spectators (bad!)

Or so I thought . . .  I’ve talked to so many parents recently who have said that just having 30 minutes without having to answer endless questions is a blessed respite.  How can that be wrong?  

‘Family learning’ and ‘respite for worn-out parents’ seem to be mutually contradictory, but most of what we see in the space is so positive and there doesn’t seem to be a problem.   So far I am not sure how this spectrum of engagement amongst adults should influence our planning for next year  – I think like a lot of aspects of In the Big TreeTop, we can try to send subtle signals about how to get the best out of the space, but we won’t impose rules.    Thankfully we have plenty of time work that one out for 2011.


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Touched by Art

The Sculpture Gallery

On Tuesday I welcomed a group of ladies and gentlemen from the Coventry Macular Disease Support Group. This is a support group which meets in Coventry regularly to share information and support each other through age-related sight loss.

Last year I was lucky enough to take part in some training to enable me to audio describe art works to visually impaired people. After meeting with the group I invited them to come to the museum for a visit. Firstly we explored the History Gallery. One of the things I love about my job is the things that you learn. They told me stories about living in Coventry during the Blitz and we reminisced about pink fridges. I showed them Coventry-made goods from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and some chain mail.

Then we visited the Discover Godiva gallery where I gave an audio description of two important paintings by John Collier and Van Noort. Although I suspect the real highlight was the cartoon about the Godiva legend which they enjoyed very much.

After that we went upstairs to the Sculpture Gallery, and armed with my list of tactile sculptures we explored some of the pieces up there. I always really enjoy the touch tour part of the visit because it gives me an opportunity to experience and learn about the sculptures in ways that are not otherwise possible. We explored the sculpture Michelangelo as a Boy.  The group were blown away by the amount of detail in the sculpture including the ribbing on his stockings and the pattern on his jacket. We also explored a few statues by Tim Threlfall which was wonderful because they are made of such diverse materials and although they look simple they are deceptively complex. Read the rest of this entry

Cabbage with peas – Kapusta z grochem

The current Your Coventry display

When I lived in Poland over ten years ago, a friend taught me the idiom Kapusta z grochem – it literally means cabbage with peas, a dish served during dinner on Christmas Eve, but it also means things are a bit of a mish mash.  Sometimes when you are working on lots of projects at once you do a bit of this and a bit of that and your days can feel like, well, kapusta z grochem.  I was thinking of this because I am working on two Polish projects at the minute, both very different, as different as cabbage and peas but equally interesting.  Read the rest of this entry

Jewish Family History

Last Sunday we hosted an event to explore Jewish Family History. The local Jewish community had invited David Jacobs from the Jewish Museum in London who had a rich set of starting points from his own book collection and from the Jewish Chronicle. There is clearly a fantastic local history project waiting to happen.

One small example was a directory from 1893, listing 6 people engaged in the watchmaking industry. A quick chat with a curator suggests that only one of these is known to us. This feels like a lovely example of community history – adding a new layer of detail to the Coventry’s existing story. Given watchmaking is a key part of our history gallery display, it would be great to find a way of making this knowledge available to our visitors.

So often the history of a minority community focuses on the biggest or oldest examples, such as the Chinese community in Liverpool or the London East-End Jews.  I think exploring the stories of these same groups in Coventry is often more representative of the wider UK experience – smaller communities without great buildings and long held links.   

I like the small histories.   They never seem to make it onto the History Channel, but they make the past ring true.

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