Evacuees visiting The MERL

The Evacuees next to the interactive that tells their stories.

The evacuees next to the interactive that tells their stories.

On 28 November 2016, The MERL welcomed seven evacuees and their families to the Museum. The evacuees had agreed to allow the Museum to include their stories in the evacuee interactive and the day was designed to thank all involved for their participation. The day included showing the evacuees the interactive for the first time, photographing the evacuees and the evacuees recording their written memoirs. The photographs and audio will now be added to the interactive in the Town and Country gallery.

The evacuees included Peter Terry and Barbara Wood.

Peter Terry, June 1940

Peter Terry, June 1940

Peter Terry, 2016.

Peter Terry, 2016.

Peter Terry was evacuated from Ilford Essex with the Beal School to Kennylands Camp, Sonning Common, Berkshire. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England recommended to the Government in 1938 that camps should be built in various country areas with the object of giving deprived children from inner cities the opportunity of having a holiday in the countryside. It was envisaged that the camps could be used as evacuation centres if necessary. Kennylands was the first camp to be finished and occupied.

Barbara and Betty as young evacuees.

Barbara and Betty as young evacuees.

Barbara and Betty, 2016.

Barbara and Betty, 2016.

Barbara and Betty Wood were evacuated from Sea Mills, Bristol to Rockwell Green, Somerset. Barbara said of the experience, “Although there were unhappy times that we stayed there, Uncle always seemed to be there to listen when we felt sad. Long after the war was over, Auntie and Uncle used to come and stay with us for holidays.”

The MERL holds over 600 evacuee memoirs of children who were evacuated in Britain and overseas.

To find out more about the archive, click here.

Caroline Gould (Principal Archivist)

Ladybird books needed!

Do you have any Ladybird books at home that you no longer want to keep or that your children no longer read? Would you like to help contribute to a display in the new galleries at The MERL?

We are looking for Ladybird books to form part of a duplicate set of the books which we will use as part of a display in the new galleries.



We have quite a few duplicates already – over 200! – but there are some titles in particular that we are looking for, and if you would like to donate these for the display, we would be very pleased to hear from you!

We are looking for any editions of the following titles:

  • British birds and their nests, by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, colour illustrations by Allen W. Seaby.
  • The story of printing, by David Carey ; with illustrations by Robert Ayton.
  • The elves and the shoemaker, retold by Vera Southgate; with illustrations by Robert Lumley.
  • Exploring space, by Roy Worvill and illlustrated by Bernard Herbert Robinson and B. Knight (or any of the Ladybird ‘Achievements’ books).
  • Any recently published (in the last twenty years) Ladybirds (but not the recent adult parody versions!), especially children’s film tie-ins and reprinted fairy tales.

Please contact Fiona Melhuish (f.h.melhuish@reading.ac.uk) or Erika Delbecque (e.delbecque@reading.ac.uk), the UMASCS Librarians, if you have any Ladybird books you would like to donate, ideally by Friday 7 October 2016.

We are always pleased to hear from anyone who would be interested in donating their Ladybird books to us for our main Ladybird Collection as well, held in the rare book collections.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Chalk or Cheese? Winner announced!

The votes are in, the people have spoken and the wall hanging chosen for display in the new Museum of English Rural Life is…Kent!

Kent single

Over the past month we asked you to vote between our Kent and Cheshire wall hangings, two of a series of seven made by the artist Michael O’Connell for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The campaign culminated in our Museums at Night event, Chalk or Cheese?, where visitors enjoyed each region’s beer and cheese, advocates for both hangings battled it out in a political hustings and everyone had to chance to participate in a secret ballot.


The end-vote was incredibly close; in the end, Kent only won by six votes.

If you’re wondering why the choice is only between two wall hangings, the reasons are actually quite simple (the others depict Rutlandshire, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and The Fens).

Firstly, we have never had the space or right conditions to display any of these hangings before, so they’ve lain in our Object Store for decades. The cost of conserving each hanging for public display was significant and involved considerable work on the part of qualified conservator Kate Gill. We could not have done this without the funding the Heritage Lottery Fund and the University provided. She removed creases in the fabric, repaired damage, and cleaned and reshaped each of them ready for display.

Kate Gill conserving the wall hangings.

Kate Gill conserving the wall hangings.

It’s actually quite lucky that the wall hangings have not been on display in so long, as it means their colours are fresh and vibrant. To keep the colours that way we have to avoid exposing them to too much light, so each wall hanging will only be displayed for five years at a time. One wall hanging will be fully displayed while the other will be rolled and stored at the back of the case, ready to be swapped around in five year’s time.

This of course means that the Cheshire wall hanging will go on display in 2021. We’d love to be able to display them all at the same time, but at a mammoth 7 x 3.5 metres each, we simply cannot afford to case them all (and we don’t have the space!). The case we have bought is bespoke, and has been carefully designed specifically for our wall hangings.

An artist's impression of what the new gallery may look like.

An artist’s impression of what the new gallery may look like.

Of course, conservation and environmental factors were less of a concern to our predecessors when they first acquired the hangings back in 1952. They took them immediately to an agricultural show and hung them in the back of a tent in the middle of a field. How times (and costs) have changed!

Thank you to everyone who voted in this campaign, and we look forward to inviting you to see the wall hanging on display this October!

Wellcome news! MERL has rural life down to a science

Our new Science Engagement Officer, Robyn Hopcroft, provides an update on the Wellcome Trust funded project: ‘Our Country Lives: Nutrition, Health and Rural England’.

What is the relationship between rural life and science? In my role at MERL I’ll be investigating this question and finding new ways to work together with our visitors to explore three key areas:

  • Food production and human nutrition
  • Livestock management and animal health
  • Rural health and medicine
The university's Special Collections Service holds an archive of Ladybird books and artwork, including many beautiful illustrations relating to science and agriculture. This is an illustration of Louis Pasteur in his laboratory from the book 'The Story of Medicine'. Authored by Edmund Hunter and Illustrated by Robert Ayton. Copyright Ladybird Books Ltd 1972.

The university’s Special Collections Service holds an archive of Ladybird books and artwork, including many beautiful illustrations relating to science and agriculture. Louis Pasteur in his laboratory from ‘The Story of Medicine’ (Author: Edmund Hunter, Illustrator: Robert Ayton) © Ladybird Books Ltd 1972.

Although I’ve only been with MERL for a few weeks, it’s already clear to me that this is the perfect place for delivery of an exciting project centred on these themes.  The Museum comprises a driven team who are keen to rise to the challenge and get people thinking about big topics like food security, sustainable agriculture and the essential functions that rural life serves in contemporary society. We hold rich collections and stories that can act as conversation starters around these kinds of issues and maintain close connections with the University research community, who offer a glimpse into the future of the countryside by sharing the latest science news.

Milking the cows from 'Fun at the Farm'. Authored by William Murray and Illustrated by Harry Wingfield. Copyright Ladybird Books Ltd 1965.

Milking the cows from ‘Fun at the Farm’ (Author: William Murray, Illustrator: Harry Wingfield). © Ladybird Books Ltd 1965.

While loads of work has already been done to incorporate scientific themes into the redevelopment of the galleries, we want to go even bigger and better. Now that I’ve started my job as the Museum’s Science Engagement Officer, the project enters a new phase. I’m looking at additional programming to get people thinking and talking about the science behind life in the countryside. To start with, I’ll be trialling some hands-on activities that relate to food and nutrition. We’re also in the very early stages of planning an artist residency, which will provide a platform for an artistic interpretation of issues relating to livestock management and animal health.

As we’re eager to get people talking online, we will be making some short films and injecting some science into our social media accounts.

This is a wonderful opportunity to work across disciplines and get stuck into finding interesting ways to connect people, science and our collections.

It’s an ambitious project, I’ll admit.  But so far so good.  Wish us luck!


We’ll be keeping you up to date with project developments in a ‘Wellcome news!’ series of posts here on the blog.


Countryside Forum: gathering stories

In her latest Activity Plan update, Phillippa Heath (Audience Development Project Manager), describes the fascinating conversations the team have been having (and are set to have) with farmers and individuals with different connections to the countryside, across the UK.

One of our ambitions for the Museum of English Rural Life’s redevelopment is to draw out and bring to the fore the fascinating stories from our objects and collections. Some of these stories might highlight how an object worked or how it was made, but many will hint at the people behind the objects, enabling us all to understand more about their lives. These stories will be appearing throughout the museum galleries as part of our new interpretation and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about a range of individuals: from historic figures represented in our collections (such as rural mid-wife Jean Young) to people widely associated with aspects of rural life today (such as Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis).

As part of this work, we are also keen to speak to as many individuals as possible who work or have associations with the countryside so that their stories too can be represented. Over the course of the last year, the Activity Plan team have been meeting with a number of individuals from across our local area of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire area talking to them about their practices and experiences.

CF - William Cumber

Livestock farmer William Cumber of Manor Farm, Abingdon

Since the beginning of this year, however, their reach has spread to include individuals from a further afield to ensure different localities as well as different viewpoints are represented in the stories which we will be sharing. In February MERL was ‘On Tour’ in Cheshire, Shropshire and Lincolnshire with staff being privileged to speak to a range of people with rural connections.

CF - MERL staff on the road

MERL Activity Plan staff on the road

Some of these individuals were farmers. Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer with a small herd of sixty cows, talked about how he and his fellow local dairy farmers are overcoming the pressures currently experienced by their industry through the formation of an informal advisory group. He described how the group acts as a support and sharing network in which members compare approaches to declining milk prices and how they can increase efficiency and sustainability on their farms.

Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer

Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer

Founder of the British Quinoa Company, Stephen Jones, although from a farming background, was at the early stages of farming an arable crop not previously farmed in the UK – quinoa. He spoke about the fascinating story behind the development of his business from his early crop research trialling to now being in the position where he is managing a thriving national business working with a diverse range of growers and suppliers.

Stephen Jones founder of the British Quinoa Company with his new product sample, quinoa muesli

Stephen Jones founder of the British Quinoa Company with his new product sample, quinoa muesli

Two of our interviewees were retired farmers. James and Joyce Greenfield are both Lincolnshire born and bred and still live in their farmhouse though no longer have the responsibility for farming the land. They talked to us about their fascinating personal histories in pastoral farming, shared some wonderful anecdotes from their farming lives and treated us to a wealth of knowledge and information. Mr Greenfield, an avid collector of farm machinery and rural heritage, also gave us a tour of his fascinating collection many items which were similar to the ones that we have at MERL.

James Greenfield and his seed fiddle

James Greenfield and his seed fiddle


Joyce Greenfield guiding us through her collection of domestic rural items

Joyce Greenfield guiding us through her collection of domestic rural items

Not all of the individuals we interviewed were practising farmers. Polly Gibb is Director of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE). Founded in 1988 and based at Harper Adams University, “WiRE is a national business support network; promoting, supporting and developing its membership of rural businesswomen. WiRE offers practical business support which includes access to the 50 WiRE networks across the UK where women in business share expertise and knowledge, build new skills, help boost confidence and support each other to build better businesses”. Polly spoke with great enthusiasm about the diversity of businesses she now has the pleasure of representing across the UK and the importance of her role in liaising with government department in ensuring rural businesswomen’s views are represented.

This week our conversations are set to continue as the Activity Plan team set off on their aptly named ‘Dartmoor Dart’. Visiting individuals across Devon, the team will be regularly updating social media so keep an eye on MERL’s facebook and twitter feeds to find out more about who they are meeting and what stories they are discovering.

Community in focus: Katesgrove

As part of the Our Country Lives Activity Plan, we have been working with local Reading audiences to establish links with our neighbours and develop long and sustainable relationships. A ward we’ve spent a lot of time working with this year is Katesgrove.

Katesgrove blog Rob making bats

We’ve been working with the excellent organisation Katesgrove Community Association (KCA), a grassroots community group run by the people of the district for the district and they carry out incredibly important work. We attended the Tea and Toast session and the May Fair at Katesgrove primary school; we chatted to parents and children alike about MERL and the Our Country Lives project. We were invited to the Knit and Natter session held at Waterloo Meadows Children’s Centre, chatting to local residents and working on our tapestry for Sew Engaging with them. We in turn hosted their Christmas party at MERL, a great opportunity to show residents who have never visited before a behind the scenes tour of the building works. During the October half term Phillippa and I attended the Aveley Walk play street. We made bats with the children for Halloween; met lots of residents in the local area and also had a great time meeting all the animals from the petting farm.

To celebrate Christmas,myself, Phillippa and our volunteer Steffanie, attended the Katesgrove Community Association Christmas Fair. Not only did we meet Father Christmas, but we had the opportunity to meet lots more residents and ask them what they thought about MERL and the countryside.

Phillippa and Jan at Katesgrove Fair

Within the Katesgrove area is the Rising Sun Arts Centre, an organisation we’ve been working on partnership projects with for the past three years. The Rising Sun delivers a vital service to many, running all sorts of sessions and classes and is mainly a volunteer-run organisation. This year they’ve been part of the Sew Engaging project. Their contribution will make a substantial part of the final project display. We’ve also hosted some of their groups at MERL, providing them with a behind the scenes tour and discussing the issues of living and working in the countryside.


In 2016 we’ll be continuing to build on these relationships within the Katesgrove community. We’d like to thank everyone for welcoming us into their groups and events. In particular Abby Knowles from the Katesgrove Community Association, Larry Watson from the Rising Sun Arts Centre and Caroline Uwais from Katesgrove Primary school.

Students take over!

This update from our Activity Plan team is written by Rachael Rogers, who has been a member of the MERL Student Panel since September. Over the last year, members have been advising us and getting involved in many aspects of the museum’s redevelopment. Rachael writes about the current project which the panel has been managing: the design of the museum’s ‘Social Learning Space’… somewhere for our visitors to relax in, reflect upon their visit and to discover more about our collections.

Since it was launched in 2013, MERL’s Student Panel has played a key role in the museum’s redevelopment plans, contributing to areas such as facilities, collections, accessibility and design, helping to bring new perspective to how the museum works and its accessibility to students and the wider public. So far this term, the panel’s discussions have been focused on our new Social Learning Space which will be located in the area in front of the reception foyer, and the adjacent room.

Student ideas

Our main incentive has been to make this an accessible area, somewhere people can relax, consider the museum’s collection, and, especially for students, work in a comfortable environment; all factors we considered in our 28th October session where we created mood boards, taking ideas from home and design magazines to build upon our own vision of the space we want to create.

Student panel ideas

We then took our ideas to London on  11th November, where we met with Penny Richards, founder director of Pringle Richards Sharratt, whose sister company GuM is heading MERL’s redevelopment design plans.

Students at GUM

We took this opportunity to put forward our ideas regarding furniture and décor, access to the collections, and lighting, using our mood boards to emphasise the predominantly Victorian styles we had in mind, a style that we felt would help to incorporate the history of the house. From this we toyed with the idea of features inspired by room’s original purpose as a kitchen, or alternatively creating a Victorian study feel, using Victorian style shelving, brown leather sofas, and a Victorian wall, incorporating various paintings and posters to emphasise the breadth of the collection and provide another means of access for students and the wider public.

Student mood board

This meeting provided us with the opportunity to really consider the finer details of the space we want to create. Penny took our points on board, building upon our ideas and helping us to design an environment that will fulfil its role as a social learning space. This included considering factors such as its providing access to the collection and other resources through Wi-Fi and iPads, as well as its privacy. The second room acts as a thoroughfare to the Reading Room and the museum’s offices. For this reason is can be busy at times with people walking through, opening and closing doors. This was one of our main focus points in this meeting, with Penny suggesting a number of potential solutions to this issue such as the use of high back chairs or curtains, creating a divide and therefore privacy for those working in the room. Overall this meeting allowed us to clarify our plans and ideas, helping us to identify the various components of this aspect of the redevelopment, and providing us with a professional insight to ensure our social learning space fulfils its intended role.

While in London we also went to the National Portrait Gallery and met with Rachel Moss, who heads NPG’s Youth Forum, where we discussed the structure of their young person’s outreach, considering the roles their forum undertakes both in the museum and within the wider community. Many of their ventures aim to promote youth involvement, local pride, and creativity, with ongoing events including;

  • ‘Pick Up a Pencil’, which runs every third Saturday of the month and hosts drop-in drawing sessions for 14-21 year olds
  • BP Next Generation, an annual event, currently in its sixth year and which engages 14-19 year olds in portraiture
  • Creative Connections: A four year project (2012-16) which aims to inspire and raise aspirations across four London boroughs.
  • Youth Insights: Van Dyck and Portraiture. Part of Museum Takeover Day 2015, involving youth forum volunteers in a public presentation regarding the work of portrait artist Van Dyck.

Students at NPG

Talking about NPG’s current ventures and future plans regarding expanding youth involvement and community outreach highlighted to us the ways that museums can be used, not only as a centre for learning and research, but also as a key figure within local communities, engaging a wide audience and creating greater accessibility into the heritage sector and, in the case of NPG, the artistic sector. One of the main things this meeting emphasised is how MERL’s redevelopment has the potential to expand beyond its collections and design. Through groups such as the student panel we hope to extend our outreach into local communities and areas slightly further afield, making the museum and its collections a more accessible facility and promoting awareness of the significance the heritage sector and the opportunities it can provide to all levels of the local community.

Since our trip to London, we have met again with Penny to discuss our ideas for the space and consider any developments. Overall, the main outcome of this meeting was that we would take more time to consider Penny’s ideas for the Social Learning Space, splitting ourselves three groups to focus on different areas of the development plans. Lisa, Clare, Siobhan, and Matthew have consulted with and presented their ideas to staff members in order to gain wider feedback. Chloe, Caroline, Aainaa, and Rhea have been considering the practicalities of the layout proposed by Penny, including the availability of kitchenalia and methods of obtaining these items. This has so far included considering public campaign ideas aimed towards the local Reading community.

Students SLS layout

Finally Phylicia, Imogen, Melina-Louise, Polly, Samuel, and myself have been considering power sources, including looking at both lighting and power outlets around the room, and the ways in which these facilities can be developed to suit the needs of those using the space. We’ll be meeting with Penny again soon to look at our developments and see how they can be incorporated into the design.

Using history to help patients reminisce at Royal Berkshire Hospital

Written by Phillippa Heath, Audience Development Project Manager

One important aspect of the Our Country Lives Activity Plan is the strengthening of links with our close neighbours the Royal Berkshire Hospital. As  our Audience Development Project Manager, I’ve been involved in one particular aspect of this partnership: an innovative reminiscence project using the MERL collections as inspiration.

Therapist and Care Crew Manager Lyndsey Openshaw with hospital patients

Therapist and Care Crew Manager Lyndsey Openshaw with hospital patients

For a number of years the Royal Berkshire Hospital has been a regular destination for MERL staff on the search for lunches or mid-afternoon snacks from one of its many retail outlets. Interestingly, visitor evaluation of the museum before our closure suggested that this flow of people was reciprocated, with roughly 10% of our visitors coming from the Hospital. The Our Country Lives project is enabling us to formalise this relationship and explore what more can be done to raise awareness of the Museum for hospital patients, their families and hospital staff. The first part of this process has been a collaboration with patients, staff and volunteers of the Hospital’s Elderly Care Ward.

Initial conversations with staff over the Summer months quickly revealed an enthusiasm to use the MERL collections as a basis for reminiscence with patients. Reminiscence (or the use of life histories – written, oral, or both – to improve psychological well-being) is proven to have particular benefit for older people. Lyndsey Openshaw, Hospital Therapist and Manager of the Care Crew team, explains the benefits of reminiscence for this audience in more detail:

“Using physical objects and pictures to encourage older people, and those with dementia, to talk about old memories, is a wonderful way to bring back happy memories. It also helps us to facilitate conversations with the patients – which is hugely beneficial in their recovery, as some older people feel lonely.”

As part of the reminiscence sessions, patients experience MERL’s film and photographic collections

As part of the reminiscence sessions, patients experience MERL’s film and photographic collections

Formally launched in October, the project is inspired by one of the Museum’s new galleries: A Year on the Farm. A programme of fortnightly sessions has been devised, exploring different topics relating to a year in the countryside. With topics as diverse as Harvest, Sports and Pastimes and Gardening and Growing, sessions draw on the museum’s extensive film and photographic archive, using them as a starting point for conversations with patients.


The sessions are delivered jointly with hospital Chaplain Lorraine Colam, and frequently involve sensory experiences appropriate to the topic such as music, food, drink and handling opportunities. Many of the topics relate to activities or events which patients may have experienced in their lifetime, be they from rural or urban backgrounds. It is fascinating to hear so many different stories in relation the topics and, from the Museum’s point of view, it tells us so much about our collections and the public’s reactions to them.

Chaplain, Lorraine Colam, reminiscing with patients.

Chaplain, Lorraine Colam, reminiscing with patients.


Our most recent session focused on ‘Sports and Pastimes’, during which we watched the 1944 archive film, Twenty Four Square Miles. This film focused on the life of people living in one part of rural Oxfordshire and proved to be a great stimulus for memories. Photographs also resulted in some fascinating discussions (examples of which can be found below) .


Sessions will be continuing throughout the year, during which we are looking forward to many more fascinating conversations with patients and staff of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

6 5

Our Country Lives update

Can you believe it’s Autumn already? Since our last update in May we’ve had an extremely busy Summer finishing our research, laying cement and visiting farmers. Here’s a round-up:

1. We’ve had exciting new research into our objects, such as this shepherd’s surprising connection to Thomas Beecham of Beecham’s pills.

Henry Beecham's walking stick

Henry Beecham’s walking stick


2. We’ve finished the building of our new extensions, and we’ve already christened our Introduction Space with a McMillan Coffee morning!

It may not look like much, but  our extensions will give us much-needed room for exhibitions and events!

It may not look like much, but our extensions will give us much-needed room for exhibitions and events!


3. To make the MERL more relevant to visitors old and new we’ve continued recruiting for our Student, Family and Countryside Forums. This is so we can make sure we’re presenting as true and balanced a picture of the countryside as possible. If you’re interested in helping us tell the story of the English rural life, please email us at: merl@reading.ac.uk

Anne and Frank beer and milk


4. We’ve just about finished writing the labels for all of our galleries. Have you ever tried condensing the story of the English countryside into 150 words or less? It’s certainly a challenge but one we think we’ve met, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve written.



5. Our cross-collections Tumblr blog was recognised as a Trending Blog by Tumblr’s own staff – give it a visit to find out why we deserved it.

One of our many Tumblr GIFs

One of our many Tumblr GIFs


6. We now know exactly what our galleries will be, what will be in them and what stories and facts we want to share with you. We have a rich variety of ways we’re going to explore English rural life in the new MERL, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates…



7. We’ve begun a partnership with the Royal Berkshire Hospital in which we are using museum artifacts to help treat dementia. Discussing historic ways of life through objects and photographs is a wonderful way to bring back happy memories to those with dementia, and can help boost patients’ memories and help make sense of past events.


Audience Development Manager Phillippa at the Royal Berks. Photo Credit: GetReading.


8. We’ve also begun work on making the MERL far more inclusive of Reading’s local communities. We’ve had the pleasure of talking to Katesgrove Community Association, Reading Chinese Association, The Greater Reading Nepalese Community Association, The Rising Sun and so many more. We hope to establish a variety of projects such as community allotments, exhibitions and film projects.

chinese as


9. You may also have seen us out and about, as we’ve been taking the Museum to the people while we’ve been closed. We’ve been talking to our local communities at East Reading Festival, winning prizes at the Berkshire Show and discussing sustainability at the Reading Town Meal. Keep a track of what we’re doing on our Events page.

Our fabulous volunteer Jenny at the Berkshire Show.

Our fabulous volunteer Jenny at the Berkshire Show.


There is plenty more we could tell you, but we’re keeping a few things up our sleeve as we prepare for our re-opening. To keep updated on our progress subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram!

Volunteers’ Voice: Young Volunteers programme

As part of the Our Country Lives Activity plan we have a Young Volunteer’s initiative which aims to encourage young people (14-18) to volunteer at the Museum. We’re working with external partners such as Reading College and Berkshire Youth to achieve this.

During the exterior building works the garden was turned into a builder’s village! The vines were overgrown, the lavender needed tidying up and the once glorious volunteer-run flowerbeds need to be transformed into allotments. This is where the Reading College students come in. They have set about tidying up our back garden with great enthusiasm. Even though the plans for the back garden have yet to be finalised, we need to make a start with the cleaning up and packing down for winter.

Reading College lavender


We started on Friday 25th September, coinciding with our Macmillan coffee morning. After filling up with tea and cake, the team set to work! Armed with shears, hoes, shovels and wheel barrows the students began. With the assistance of their tutor and my limited horticultural knowledge, our young volunteers did an excellent job. They even harvested our grapes, ready to be turned into juice at the Reading Town Meal.

Reading College grape harvesting

Every Friday until winter sets in the team will be here volunteering in the garden.

As well as the gardening project with Reading College, we’re working with Berkshire Youth. They’ll be looking at the lives of 19th century children in the countryside and the Swing Riots. Working with our volunteers who developed the Swing Riots  performance piece, they’ll be creating walks around Berkshire, based on the routes taken by the Kintbury swing rioters in November 1830. They’ll also put on an exhibition in our community exhibition space.

Next year we’ll be recruiting young volunteers (14-18) to be part of the public facing team when we reopen: object handlers, gallery team members, tour guides and front of house members. This will involve after school and holiday volunteering sessions.

There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved so if you’d like to find out more then please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Rob Davies on r.j.davies@reading.ac.uk

Delivering grapes1

Rob delivering grapes for the Reading Town Meal