Museum Prize Readers Poll - Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham

By Corinne Field
Shows three people doing archaeological excavation. There is a man in a white t-shirt, jeans and a cap and two girls one wearing a red t-shirt and blue jeans.

Photo: archaeology course at Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster. Courtesy of Clifton Park Museum.

The Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year is the UK's largest arts prize and, with the judges in the process of picking the winner, we want to know what you think.

Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum or gallery you think should be on the receiving end of £100,000.

Read on to find out why Clifton Park Museum made it onto the shortlist.

Clifton Park Museum’s Heritage Education Project has been going for two years. It is the first museum project funded by the Basic Skills Agency (BSA).

Guy Kilminster, Manager of Libraries, Museums and Arts for Rotherham Borough Council, explains that the museum identified a group of people who were interested in participating in museum activities but who didn’t have the skills to participate at the level these activities were pitched.

Cue the Basic Skills Agency. With a £50,000 grant from the BSA, the museum set up a range of activities and workshops for adults with learning difficulties or for whom the formal education system had failed to provide basic skills.

The BSA defines basic skills as 'the ability to read, write and speak English/Welsh and use mathematics at a level necessary to function and progress at work and in society in general'.

Guy says "The aim of the project was to explain how to use museum resources and archives for people with basic needs."

Shows a photograph of three of the judges taking part in a mock up of the Mystery Objects workshop.

Photo: Gulbenkian judges took part in an object handling session, based on Mystery Objects workshop, led by Abigail Hackett, Project Organiser. Courtesy of Clifton Park Museum.

The activities were designed to encourage participants to take an interest in local history while at the same time improving their basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills. Clifton Park Museum employed a project officer, Abigail Hackett, to co-ordinate and publicise the programme of activities on offer.

Working with adults from local colleges, some activities were designed to tie in with the Basic Skills curriculum. Museum staff also worked with groups from local care homes and day centres as well as members of the general public.

Mystery Objects is the workshop that the museum recreated for the Gulbenkian judges’ visit last Friday. Objects from the museum’s collection, like a World War One trench periscope, nineteenth century crimping irons and candle snuffers, were put into black cloth bags and passed round the group.

One member of the group had to describe how the object felt and another what it looked like. Then the object was revealed and a group discussion took place.

The aim was to help participants develop their vocabulary while at the same time learning about heritage objects.

Guy explains that people who lack basic skills often lack confidence. In many cases they have not responded to formal education and have become suspicious of learning. An activity like this hides the learning aspect until participants have confidence in the process.

He says, "they won’t even realise what they are doing. That’s the joy of it."

Shows a photograph of the project officer with members of the Rotherham Day Service display team.

Photo: the display team from Rotherham Day Service who were involved in creating the 'Our Past Our Memories' display. Courtesy of Clifton Park Museum.

Another really successful project involved taking a group of 50 and 60 year-old basic skills students from Rotherham College of Art to an archaeological investigation of nearby Brodsworth, a country house estate.

Supervised by archaeology students from Sheffield University working on the site, the group from Rotherham Art College helped out with excavation, geophysical surveys and recording information on gravestones.

Other workshops included producing exhibitions like Holiday’s of the Past, where participants put together family archives including artefacts and photographs. Mounted on professional display boards with artefacts shown in portable display cases, the exhibition toured local libraries.

An oral history project encouraged participants to record their memories and those of their friends and relatives. The museum provided the mini discs, recording equipment and editing facilities.

Guy tells me that not only did this project "help people understand the value of recording people’s memories for local history", but it also encouraged "confidence building around technologies and communication skills" and gave participants "confidence that their own personal experiences are valuable in their own right".

Guy sees The Heritage Education Project very much as a pilot project. "It isn’t something that only Rotherham could do and it can work on a relatively small amount of money," he says.

It is the second time Clifton Park Museum has been shortlisted for the Gulbenkian, the only museum to have been shortlisted twice.

"What the Gulbenkian is all about is innovation. We are the first service to pro-actively work with Basic Skills in this way."

He adds, "it is about developing innovation that can be shared across the museum profession. On relatively limited resources any service could do this, any museum, local or national."

"We’ve demonstrated that through this type of work you can engage with a large group of people who don’t engage with museums, who don’t feel part of our world. We can make them part of our world."

Clifton Park Museum is currently undergoing renovation and refurbishment. Lessons learnt from The Heritage Education Project will inform the redesign of the museum, a grand mansion with a forbidding exterior.

"The project has reiterated the need to make the entrance and exterior as welcoming as possible so we don’t have barriers before people get into the building," says Guy.

It is all about accessibility. Text accompanying exhibits will be pitched at a level so that everyone visiting the museum can understand and learn from what is written.

"We will be making much greater use of interactives and visual images to make sure we are as inclusive as possible with our displays," he says.

What Clifton Park Museum have created is a chance for a new audience to get involved with museums. Yorkshire Museum and Archive Service are so impressed with the response to the project they have already expressed an interest in using the Heritage Education Project’s Project Officer to spread the word across Yorkshire by running training courses about how to engage a basic skills audience.

"It is the impact on the individual that’s been really positive," says Guy. College students who took part have gone on to visit other museums in Yorkshire and the archaeology team are planning a return visit. "They’ve enjoyed it and their confidence has grown because of it," he adds.

Museum staff have learnt from the project too. "It has raised all the staff’s awareness of what basic skills are about. We are all better equipped to identify visitors who might benefit from these kinds of workshops."

The renovation of Clifton Park Museum will not be completed until December 2004. In the short term museum staff can be contacted at their temporary offices at Rotherham Art Gallery.

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win this year's Gulbenkian Prize.

To vote for the Clifton Park Museum click here.

If you haven’t decided yet which museum you want to win there will be another chance to vote later this month when we will feature the full shortlist.

To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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