Here at the Manchester Museum, engagement “drives everything we do” (Strategic Plan 2012-2015). We provide an outreach service, ‘Museum Comes to You’, which facilitates engagement with local people: this involves members of staff from the Museum conducting visits to schools and other groups, taking a variety of objects from the Museum’s collections for people to handle. I recently visited some students at Trafford College’s Altrincham campus with Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Exhibitions, and a box of objects relating to our Manchester Gallery.
The students we visited were 16-19 years old and studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at the college. Talking about (and handling) objects can be an interesting way for people to develop their English skills, and this particular session explored the links between the Museum’s collections and the city’s history. The students saw a number of exotic insects found at Smithfield, a Manchester food market, reflecting global trade via the Manchester Ship Canal. This canal was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894, and the students were shown a commemorative medallion. There were also fossilised plants, an ancient Egyptian cosmetic artefact and some raw cotton. Manchester of course was famous for its cotton factories and warehouses during the Industrial Revolution.
The group had also planned a trip to the Museum, scheduled to take place soon after Andrea and I visited the college. As arranged, I greeted the students on their arrival and took them on a guided tour of the Museum. Having met the students previously and gained a sense of their interests as well as their English skills, I tailored their tour accordingly and enjoyed helping them to make the most of their day at the Museum. One topic which came up during the session at Trafford College was Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, so as part of the Museum tour I took the students to see a display case containing some Peppered Moths. Scientists often use these moths to explain how evolution works, with advantageous features (in this case, colour) passing from individuals to their offspring.
Andrea and I were delighted to receive great feedback from Trafford College about our session and the subsequent Museum tour; the teacher contacted us to report that all of her students “really enjoyed it and were really engaged”.
By Daniel Kennedy