Museum Prize Readers Poll - Prescot Museum, Merseyside

By Corinne Field
Shows a black and white photograph of women working at machinery in the factory.

Photo: cables made in the Prescot factory gave electricity to homes in Canada and power was supplied to cities in Australia and China. © Knowsley Museum Service

Creating History – The Story of a Lifetime, a collaboration between staff at Prescot Museum and children from St Mary’s and St Paul’s school in Prescot, has made it on to this year’s Gulbenkian shortlist much to the delight of Rosemary Tyler, Curator of Local History at Knowsley Museum Service.

"We do a lot of service work with schools," says Rosemary. "But this is the first time we have worked with this school."

It is a collaboration that seems to work and has certainly been popular with the local community.

"This exhibition has got a lot more people through our doors," says Rosemary. "In fact we’ve had so many people giving their support we’ve started calling it 'the Gulbenkian factor'."

The aim of Creating History is to bring history to life. Children, aged eight and nine, from St Mary’s and St Paul’s Primary School worked with museum staff for two weeks exploring the history of the British Insulated Callendar Cable Company (BICC).

A big multinational company, BICC, made electrical cables used to power everything from telephones to trams, which were shipped all over the world.

Shows a photograph of two of the children from St Mary's and St Paul's Primary School filming a scene for the project.

Photo: © Prescot Museum, Knowsley

St Mary’s and St Paul’s Primary is in a deprived area close to the old BICC factory site. Sadly, save for a few old buildings, the factory has completely disappeared. It is now what Rosemary describes as a 'multi-use' site, similar to an out of town retail park.

Initially the children researched BICC’s history from the late 1800s to the present day, from its heyday as the largest local employer to its demolition.

The project inspired the children to explore and interpret local history, bringing in national curriculum themes and giving them a real sense of their own heritage and citizenship. It involved looking creatively at archives, photographs, artefacts and talking to local people about their experiences of working at the factory.

Using drama techniques the children developed their new-found information into short scripts, written and performed by them. These short films and the rest of the project can be viewed by clicking here.

Shows a black and white photograph of the inside of one of the factory buildings. There are people working at machines.

Photo: BICC made cables for the London Underground and for railway lines in India. © Knowsley Museum Service

"What we actually created was so interesting," says Rosemary. "Using lateral thinking coming in from different points of view made it interesting and exciting."

If visitor comments are anything to go by Creating History certainly captured the imagination of local people.

Knowsley Museum Service encouraged visitors to its website to email their comments about the project to Prescot Museum. So far about 160 emails have been received.

One local parent who visited Prescot Museum for the first time as a result of a local media story about Creating History says, "It’s an integral part of the local environment and provides us with updated and current information about our local culture and history. It is important we teach our children about our community, expanding their knowledge of their world. Without this facility this learning opportunity would be lost."

Enhancing the public perception of museums and galleries, one of the criteria that Gulbenkian judges are looking for, is something that Prescot Museum has fulfilled in spades with this project.

But that is not the only area where Creating History scores points. It has also encouraged public interest in archive and conservation work and developed the museum’s collections, two other criteria that museum’s have to fulfil to make it on to the shortlist.

Since details of the project have appeared in the local press other ex-factory workers have donated artefacts from their days at BICC to the museum collection.

Shows a black and white photograph of air raid wardens.

Photo: during the Second World War the factory had its own team of Air Raid Wardens. © Knowsley Museum Service

Rosemary is really pleased. "It means we will have an even better resource in the future," she says.

When asked why Creating History should win this year’s prize Rosemary says, "A tiny museum that works on a very small budget, has to be very creative. It would be nice for a small museum like us, that works very hard, to receive an accolade like this."

Prescot Museum is up against a pretty impressive field. Rivals like Titian at the National Gallery are working to an altogether different brief and working to win the support of national and international audiences. But this does not worry Rosemary.

"We don’t look at anybody as rivals," says Rosemary. "They’ve all contributed in different ways."

She adds, "My hat goes off to the judges, they’re all so different. But we see ourselves as our main competition."

She says the museum service staff learn something from each new project and the challenge with the next one is to do something equally as good if not better.

So the next project is, no doubt, what the money would be spent on if Creating History were to win the coveted £100,000 prize money.

"We would plough it back into more and more community work," says Rosemary, "to celebrate our heritage".

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 Prescot Museum click here.

If you haven’t decided yet which museum you want to win there will be another chance to vote in March 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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