Working with very old, small schools brough interesting challenges to the museums and actors involved. Photograph: National Maritime Museum Cornwall Last autumn, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall 1 hit the road with a living history programme that explored Cornwall’s relationship with the sea. Called Cornish Voices, this actor-led outreach programme was designed especially for schools 2 and delivered in partnership with local museums 3 , which made each performance relevant to the history and heritage of its local community.
Running outreach work in any area is a time consuming and complex operation. Add to that Cornwall’s geographic spread, super-narrow country lanes, some tiny schools, a handful of cars causing gridlock and questionable road signs and you get the picture. So why not ask the schools to come to the museum?
The issues with this are twofold: geography and transport. Cornwall is a long, thin county, which makes travel times quite long, and the rural public transport system can be expensive and tedious. These are real barriers to children accessing educational and cultural experiences beyond the school grounds, so much so that in some remote villages you’re looking at one bus in the morning and one back sometime in the afternoon.
Hiring a coach is an option but it all adds to the cost, plus Cornwall is unusual in that a high percentage of schools are very small (60 children in the whole school) meaning to make a coach cost-effective you’d need to bring the whole school on a visit, which has the added complication of making the visit meet the diverse educational needs of children from four to 11-years-old. So taking the museum’s programme out is an attractive offer, but only if the schools can make the numbers add up. Teachers really want something they can’t deliver themselves, like real artefacts, real paintings or live drama with professional actors.
However, deep down, they are judging value for money against basic benchmarks, such as the cost of a supply teacher for the day. This places a subtle set of limits on what can be charged, and the resources that can be committed. “The beauty of our model is that we can do a performance up to three times for each school and are very flexible depending on what the school wants, for example two performances and an assembly, or all-day drama, or sharing the cost with a neighbour school,” says Stuart Slade, education manager at the Maritime Museum. “All this makes it much more attractive to schools.” Working with very old and small schools, sometimes in halls or classrooms, brings interesting challenges for the museums and actors. Slade lists a few: “Cooking smells coming through making the children hungry; classroom changeovers meaning lots of children coming and going over the performance space, and so you have to find actors who will to be comfortable to take whatever the day will throw at them and be okay with a pretty random set of bookings over the course of the tour.” Sessions also took place in some of Cornwall’s small, often volunteer-run museums, where space can be an issue; the buildings can be packed with artefacts, so bringing a school group in is challenging, let alone a performance. “Cornwall’s network of museums are an amazing cultural asset, often run on a shoestring.
We’ve faced a lot of challenges creating this living history programme financial, time, expertise,” says Slade. “Arts Council England investment has meant we can work with the small museums and help them to develop their own programme and build relationships with their local schools by linking the stories to their artefacts they became the evidence of the story.” The team behind the programme started by looking at how each museum could add to the core performance, linking the general themes to key local stories, artefacts and traditions. Some of the museum staff and volunteers were nervous about bringing new activity and groups of children into their spaces, but “a common desire to do something good for the children broke down the barriers very quickly,” says Slade. “If everyone genuinely wanted to do their best for the children then egos, reputations and politics all become secondary and you end up with something pretty inspirational and unique.” Sarah Ferrie is a freelance consultant in arts, culture and tourism follow her on Twitter @sarahlferrie 4 This project is delivered by the Cornwall Museums Group , including National Maritime Museum Cornwall @TheNMMC , Royal Cornwall Museum @RoyalCornwall , Falmouth Art Gallery @falmouthartgall , Penlee House Gallery & Museum @PenleeHouse , and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum @ThePTM 5 6 7 8 9 10 This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional . To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, sign up free to become a member of the Culture Professionals Network .
11 12 References ^ National Maritime Museum Cornwall (www.nmmc.co.uk) ^ More from the Guardian on Schools (www.theguardian.com) ^ More from the Guardian on Museums (www.theguardian.com) ^ @sarahlferrie (twitter.com) ^ Cornwall Museums Group (www.nmmc.co.uk) ^ @TheNMMC (twitter.com) ^ @RoyalCornwall (twitter.com) ^ @falmouthartgall (twitter.com) ^ @PenleeHouse (twitter.com) ^ @ThePTM (twitter.com) ^ Guardian Professional (theguardian.com) ^ member of the Culture Professionals Network (register.theguardian.com)