Inspiring Creativity with Objects: Collections-based activities for families

During her time at MERL as Public Programmes Manager, covering maternity leave, Phillippa Heath has introduced some some great new workshops enabling families to get closer to our collections. In this post, Phillippa looks at how the positive reaction to the new sessions will influence our future planning for families…

Whenever we plan a family events programme at the Museum, we look for fun and engaging ways we can relate activities to the collections in the Museum whether it is through our objects, archives or books, or even the themes they represent. This helps us create unique experiences that our visitors wouldn’t find elsewhere.  Whatever the age group, there’s always something we can call on for inspiration in the collections, our Victorian building or the beautiful garden.

During my time working at MERL, I have tried to ensure our activities allow opportunities for our family visitors to get even more up close and personal to the collections than usual. During the Easter holidays, as part the Basket Weaving workshops and the Decoupage Egg Cup workshops, all attendees visited the object store on the mezzanine level. The visit to the object store- a treasure trove of collections normally only accessible on guided tours- allowed us to get a closer look at specially selected objects relating to the workshop themes.

basket workshop

Families visit the mezzanine to see the basket collection before making their own woven fabric baskets

For each of these workshops, the families were able to see relevant artefacts, ask museum staff questions about them and carry out observational drawings before moving on to do their craft. We received some amazingly positive feedback. One Mum, Dr Emma Mayhew, wrote:

“I genuinely thought that the entire workshop was really well thought out, highly educational and thoroughly enjoyable. The Mezzanine level trip was a great new feature…. The brief talk, interactive question and answer session and activity worksheet mirror the kinds of activity that they would normally undertake during a school trip so this is all familiar to the children and makes parents feel that they really are engaged in an activity with educational value. Obviously the craft session afterwards was really enjoyable as well. Our decoupage egg cups and eggs are taking pride of place in our Easter display”.

Decoupage Easter display

The Mayhew’s lovely Easter display including their decoupage egg cups made at MERL

Since Easter, we have continued to embrace this type of workshop structure for other family activities including the Palmer’s Painted Glass workshop in May half term and, for the Summer’s Applique and Stitch , Felt Making and Bread Making workshops we are hoping to do something similar. In the Applique and Stitch workshop, families will have the unique opportunity to see one of our huge 1951 wall-hangings as it is being worked on by an expert conservator, who is preparing it for being displayed for the first time in 60 years as part of the Our Country Lives project. The families will then use this as inspiration for creating their own landscape wall-hanging using layered fabrics and hand stitching.

One of Michael O'Connell's 1951 wall hangings will feature in the new MERL.

One of Michael O’Connell’s 1951 wall hangings will feature in the new MERL.

This is definitely the kind of activity we would like to explore further. As a result of this and, in conjunction with the fact that we are currently developing a collection of objects suitable for handling, it is very much hoped that our visitors will be able to gain even more from their visits to MERL in the years to come.

If you would like get involved in planning future family activities at MERL, why not come along to our special family tour on July 29th (2.30-3.15pm) to find out about plans for a Family Forum as part of the Our Country Lives redevelopment project. It’s free and there’s no need to book so we look forward to seeing you.




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