Children & Young People
What Can Heritage Offer Them?
The other day, I was trawling through the “What’s On” listings I receive, every month, from the National Archives. I was intrigued, and delighted, to find that they have launched an online story-telling session, each month, for the under-3’s. I did a double take, and read it again but, yes it really did say what I thought it said: the National Archives are delivering a story-telling session for toddlers. The particular event I was looking at was described as interactive, and all about transport – the sounds, images, and stories associated with transport through the ages.
With very young children – whatever the topic – the key is to appeal to their imaginations, make it fun, and allow some play or activities as part of the story-telling. Children can engage in creative ways with heritage topics. Other good subjects for this age group include: maps, natural history, people and places, fashion through the ages, and pretty much anything that has a strong visual or sensory element.
Whilst many people are not aware of this, the ARA Card (allowing customers to access archives’ services nationwide) is not just for adults. The lower age limit for someone to be issued with an ARA Card (commonly called a “reader’s ticket”) is 14 years. This begs the question, what can we offer teenagers (and those who are even younger)?
Teenagers and other young people, most often come into contact with us through school visits, or group visits such as those arranged by Cubs or Scouts. By the time a teenager reaches 16 years old, they get in touch with us to ask if they can come for a week’s work experience. And by the time they are in their school’s Sixth Form, they often want to volunteer once a week as part of their wider learning, perhaps as something to include in their university admissions (UCAS) personal statement, or as part of a scheme such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
We have lots of experience of working with children, including teenagers, and especially those aged 9 – 11 years, from primary school. The sort of activities we have delivered for them, include: behind-the-scenes tours, basic conservation awareness, palaeography and writing with quills, Gloucester Olympicks (indoor games), story-telling, workshops on a range of themes (often, but not always, linked to the curriculum) and an annual take-over day,
Passport to the Past” is our online, interactive, themed sessions for those aged 6 – 13 years. This is a free after-school club (first Wednesday of the month, 4pm-5pm - pre-booking is essential). For more information visit Gloucestershire Archives Events
There is a lot more that we’d like to do. For example, we would very much like to set up a Youth Panel, for teenagers, and ask them to get involved in giving us feedback and practical suggestions as to how we run our service. I would very much like to introduce an annual story writing competition, based on heritage or items in our collection.
Other, similar competitions for children could be around drawing a picture, or writing a letter about life as a child, in Gloucester, in the early 21st Century, and getting it added to our collections. We could even start a mini-gardeners’ activity club, especially for children without gardens – growing sunflowers, sweet peas or tomatoes and herbs, in our large community garden.
Children are often more adept than adults at using technology. We have our own film equipment, including movie cameras and tripods. A small number of children could make, edit and produce their own short film about the Heritage Hub.
The list of possibilities is endless, and there really is something for children of all ages.
One of the most exciting things that children like to do, when they visit us, is to be shown round a strong-room. I suppose it’s because it’s a little bit spooky, it’s a locked space where people do not usually go, the items on the shelves look quite large and formidable to a child, and because they will never have seen anything quite like it before! When we show children inside the strong-rooms, they are full of questions – how much space do we have? What’s the oldest document? Why is it so cold in here? How many items do we have, in total? How far ahead do we plan (for items that come into our repository)? Even a brief visit to a strong-room can offer infinite educational possibilities.
I still find it really interesting that the National Archives is now offering an online story-telling session for toddlers…maybe this is something we could try? Why not? After all, if it’s good enough for the National Archives…
Frontiers and Pioneers
We linked our children’s event for September into the Gloucester History Festival theme of Frontiers and Pioneers with an event called The Worst Journey in the World.
We looked at the doomed Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic and focused on the role of Cheltenham-born Edward Wilson’s contribution as the artist who documented this treacherous voyage. We have some of Wilson’s notebooks in our collections, but the majority of his archive is at The Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham. The ‘P’ in PLOT stands for Partnerships (we are the Partnerships, Learning and Outreach Team!) and we are grateful to The Wilson who kindly allowed us to use images from their collections and lent us some wonderful taxidermy specimens….
The taxidermy allowed the fifteen children who joined the session – including a pair of brothers from Canada – to practise drawing native British species: a rabbit, a wren and a blackbird.
Wilson honed his remarkable skill as an artist from childhood, drawing the flora and fauna he saw around him from his home at The Crippetts, near Cheltenham. He painted this blue tit when he was a young boy. The sketch of the wren is a little later.
With the help of some techniques from visiting artist Georgia Vesma, the children produced some wonderful drawings. Their ages ranged from four to 11 years old, but they all enjoyed the chance to learn some new drawing skills. Chief among these was to spend more time looking at the subject and less time looking at their own work. Georgia asked the children to create one drawing in 2 minutes, without lifting their pen or pencil from the paper. The children showed their work after each task and gave each other encouraging feedback. The final task gave the children 8 minutes to do a more detailed drawing of a rabbit, with some fabulous results.
We aim to make all the children’s events as interactive as we can, given that we are restricted to online events for the time being, and the children are asked to submit their work to us to be accessioned into our collections.
Our next event is all about toys and games through the ages. To book visit Gloucestershire Archives Events
Volunteering – and Why People Do It
For much of my adult life, I have worked (on and off) as a volunteer. I have experience of volunteering in homeless shelters, at Christmas, in Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, for UNESCO (in the Middle East) and for a non-profit, in New York, providing a range of services to elders in need. I also write numerous articles, for various publications, in a voluntary capacity, on a wide range of topics – equalities, the coronavirus pandemic, project work and a whole number of other subjects.
I suppose I do it for two main reasons – it makes me feel good, and it offers opportunities for learning and for meeting new people. The sort of people I may otherwise never meet. I have not done any hands-on volunteering for some years, because of other priorities and having a busy working life. But it’s something I may well get back to, at some point.
Volunteers are often the unsung heroes of organisations. They bring new ideas, a wealth of experience, energy, commitment and enthusiasm. And they bring their time, that most precious of commodities. Volunteers do not, of course, expect to be paid – that is not why they do it – although out of pocket expenses should always be paid.
I started volunteering when I was a university student; I thought it would be a good thing to do, and something to add to my CV. As a volunteer, I have visited the United Nations, in New York, seen first-hand some of the political and religious strains in the Middle East, met people from all walks of life and seen poverty and illness up close. It has been quite a journey, and I would recommend volunteering to everyone, but especially to young people.
When I went to university, in the late 1970s, I moved to a big, Northern city, from a sleepy market town. The market town is now three times bigger than it was when I was growing up there, and bears very little resemblance to my childhood home. It’s fair to say that life was very sheltered and homogenous – for example, I didn’t have a conversation with, say, a black person, until I went to university. At that time, there was no social media, no internet, and people who were different from those around me were simply not visible – not on the TV, or in newspapers. Volunteering (starting in my late teens) was a way for me to “broaden my horizons” – yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but also a truism. Young people today do have access to far more information than people of my generation had, but there is nothing that beats getting involved, getting your hands dirty and getting stuck in. Social media platforms, the internet and such like may be effective in making people more aware, but I’m very much an advocate of getting out there and just doing it.
Nothing in the world beats experience, and I was reminded of this recently in conversation with a colleague in another sector, who commented on all the different jobs I’ve done (she was asking me about where I’d worked, as what, and when). Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, and ask yourself “What have I learned from what I’ve done?” And experience is invaluable, whether paid or unpaid, because it gives an authenticity to whatever it is you’re talking about having learned.
I sometimes think back to my time as a volunteer in the Middle East; I was there for a whole summer in 1979, as an undergraduate. I was billeted in a ramshackle single-storey house, in a village in the hills, no glazed windows, no furniture to speak of, just a dirt floor with some large cushions. All my fellow volunteers were men, apart from one other woman, and all of us were from across the globe; we had come together to do a community project in the village. It was hard, physical work. A few months after my extended visit this country descended into civil war, following a military coup. On one occasion, during my stay, I was invited to eat supper with the tribal elders. The women in this multi-generational household didn’t join us, as was the custom in this Muslim country – they sat apart, to eat their food (only after the men had finished theirs, the women had the left-overs). They didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak their language, so we had to improvise with gestures and body language, and hastily drawn pictures. We sat on the floor, to eat, around a circular dining “table”, a low, revolving metal platter, about 4 feet in diameter. There were no plates or knives and forks – we piled food on to slices of unleavened bread, and ate with our fingers. There was no electricity. There was no TV, no newspapers and transport (limited) was by donkey and cart. There were no shops, just a weekly market about 10 miles away. There were no bathrooms and no plumbing, and no toilets or showers. It was probably less than 2,000 miles away from home, yet a world away in terms of culture. And the food was so different from what I was used to! In many ways, it was an adventure, and one that I’m very glad I had. When I returned home I brought back a small tribal rug, which I’d bartered for in one of the souks, and very many memories which other learning opportunities simply can’t offer.
So, that’s my story of how my volunteering journey started. What about yours? People volunteer for all sorts of reasons, and come from all sorts of backgrounds. At Gloucestershire Archives we have dozens of volunteers, all of them connected by a common passion for history. As I said before, people volunteer for all sorts of reasons, and I think one of the principle ones is simply to learn. There are many learning opportunities at Gloucestershire Archives, for volunteers; we have around 20 “job descriptions” for our volunteers. In recent years, we have seen a little more diversity amongst those who volunteer for us, and I think this is a good thing. Above all, we value our volunteers for all the rich life experience they bring, and for the time they so willingly give us. Volunteering is a way of life, for many of our volunteers, and all of us are richer for that.
Five Years On – A Personal View from Sally Middleton
Next month marks 5 years since I started working at Gloucestershire Archives. I cannot believe it has been half a decade since I joined the team, initially as a Community Heritage Development Officer (a new post), then as the Community Heritage Development Manager.
In that half-decade, I have met dozens of new people, the number of volunteers has more than doubled, I have acquired a new team – the PLOT (Partnerships, Learning & Outreach Team) – and we have transferred all of our outreach and learning to online delivery, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, during those 5 years, the “For the Record” project building work started and finished, and the place looks vastly different from when I first arrived – we now have the Heritage Hub, with all its modern and spacious facilities. And, of course, we have a newly landscaped community garden complete with wildlife pond and bee hives!
It has been quite a journey – not only for me, but for the service and the wider team. And, of course, for our customers and volunteers – who all have far better facilities than ever before, with a lot more space. By far the biggest change in the last half-decade, and the one with the greatest cause for celebration, has been the outstanding success of “For the Record”, which has been a massive transformation project.
The year after the building work was finished, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, in March 2020, and we all had to learn new ways of working and delivering our service. Volunteers (a small number of them) continued to work remotely. And staff learned how to undertake film-making and delivering talks online, for both adults and children. We set up weekly Volunteer Zooms – a space to chat over coffee, in a virtual setting – in May 2020, and these are on-going. Life certainly has not been quiet!
I knew of Gloucestershire Archives long before I started working here. What I didn’t know was exactly what treasures Gloucestershire Archives has, and what it did day to day. I have learned a great deal in the last 5 years, and have introduced some new ways of doing things.
Also, during my time here, we have signed up to Twitter and Facebook, and now use these social media platforms to market and promote what we do, to a much wider audience than before. And we have a new website, all about the Heritage Hub and its partners. There is a new online catalogue (Epexio), and this will also transform the way that customers interact with us.
Above all, I think recent years have been all about learning, and growth, for all of us to some extent. Whilst this inevitably brings challenges, it also brings rewards. Looking back, it’s quite amazing how so many things have changed in the last five years. Congratulations to all involved!
New faces at Archives
If you’ve visited the archives recently you might have noticed two new members of the team. We’re delighted to welcome Charlotte and Sade to the team who will be with us for the next six months as Kickstarter apprentices. Charlotte will be focusing on work in the Customer Services Team, and Sade on work in the Collections Team. Both will be helping us to commission our new strongrooms.
Claire Collins, Collections Development Manager
The Kickstart Scheme provides funding to create new jobs for 16 to 24 year olds and offers a young person a 6 month job placement that will give them the experience they need.