The Museum has a growing interest in promoting ‘Sense of Place’ and ‘iMuse in Reading’s’ funder (Reading Borough Council through its Culture and Sport Fund) wishes to promote local people’s knowledge of local history.
We have selected a topic which takes advantage of the fact that the Museum is on the site of the newly refurbished University of Reading London Rd campus. Serenditpitously, the building next door to the Museum was a dairy used by the British Dairy Institute, an associate of the old pre-University College. This building is now a cafe and serves as the cafe for Museum visitors. Objects from the Institute and from the University are in the Museum, and the University maintains a strong tradition of both dairy research and specialist teaching in its departments of Food Science and Agriculture. Reading itself being a highly urban environment, it seemed likely that many local people did not know about this historical and continuing link with rural life.
The Museum holds an extensive collection of objects related to butter-making and runs events which include butter-making. However, Lorna’s advice was that cheese had the potential to be more ‘hilarious’ to children. With the help of Greta, a member of Museum staff, we scanned the online catalogue. There were some striking objects with local dairy connections [e.g. cheese press, milk float] and some which were strikingly large but unlikely to have been noticed before [e.g. whey heater, milk churn].
There was also the potential for following a storyline – cheese production – though we have had to modify this slightly due to the layout of the Museum being materials- rather than process- based, and some relevant equipment being in the not-so-accessible store upstairs.
Berkshire is not well-known for traditonal cheese making, but there has fairly recently been a resurgence of interest in specialist cheeses, and there are now two cheese-makers within a few miles of Reading, both making cheeses with locally-related names (Barkham Blue and Spenwood, named after Spencer’s Wood).
There was a further piece of context we wanted to include. The Museum has a temporary exhibition of rural photographs and has based this half-term activities around the theme of ‘all things optical’ encouraging visitors to investigate new ‘ways of seeing’. While our other activity (Ways of i-seeing, qv) more closely follows this theme, there was potential for including a photo in the game.
The Museum had advertised its activities for this week as suitable for children 6+ so it seemed sensible to aim for the same age range as we had done no advertising of the game.
After some discussion, and several ‘walks around’ the main, ground floor area, we firmed up on these aims for the game:
- A fun activity for family groups where the children have a definite role
- Encouragement to talk about what they are looking for by making the trail aspect not immediately obvious.
- Encouragement to explore the full area of the ground floor and to look at objects in a little more detail than might be the case if just walking around
- Coming away with some increased knowledge of Reading’s connection with dairying and cheese-making in particular.
- trial some technology (QR codes, iPads, wifi, web access) in a ‘real’ museum context
- observe how such an activity increases (or otherwise) communication both within groups and with museum personnel [imuse helpers in the main on this occasion]
- get some feed-back from visitors
- possibly extend visitors’ interest beyond the visit by pointing them to online content (especially the backstory which can be made more accessible e.g. by audio)