Ashby de la Zouch Museum Digital Engagement Projects

Ashby de la Zouch Museum Digital Engagement Projects Blog

All lathered up!

Well the most exciting news is that our project on the Standard Soap Company won the East Midlands Heritage Award in the Heart of the Community category.  What a night!  We were thrilled to win this award in its inaugural year, especially as the competition was open not just to Leicestershire and Rutland but to Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire as well and to professional as well as voluntary museums.  Two of the former employees from Standard Soap were present at the award ceremony.  It has been our pleasure and pride to be able to preserve this important piece of Ashby history which means so much to the people who worked at the factory.

Creative Writing is the current concern.  Offerings are coming in from Ashby Writers’ Club members who visited the museum archives last month and selected objects to write about.  We may be able to present some of them in a future post.  We are also eagerly awaiting entries to the Children’s Writing Competition.  The closing date is next Friday.

We have also been working very hard with Rising Stars TV & Film School students on our film dramatisation about life in Ashby in the Civil War.  Rehearsals have started and we will be filming during the school holidays in July and August.




Have you got the bottle?

We are gearing up for an unusual event later this month.  As part of the Ashby Arts Festival, the Museum is hosting a bottle drawing workshop.  Not dull old milk bottles mind you, really interesting old bottles of different shapes and sizes from a large collection donated by the parents of David Jaques, a young man who was tragically killed in a motor cycle accident some years ago.

Local artist Di Lorriman will be on hand to assist and offer expert tips and hints.  The workshop runs from 9.30 to 12.30 on Tuesday 28th May and entry is completely free.  You can book a one hour slot at Ashby Tourist Information Centre. All materials are also provided free of charge but we are hoping participants will donate their work to the museum so that it can form part of a temporary exhibition which will include the bottles themselves.  This is the first time part of the collection will have been on show to the public and is part of a campaign to get more of the collection out of the archives and into the open!

Another part of that same campaign took place last night when Ashby Writers’ Club visited the Museum and were allowed to look round the archives as well as the Museum itself.  They chose objects which interested them to handle and photograph so that they can use them to inspire stories and poems.  We are really excited about this project and look forward to seeing the results which we hope to make available in one form or another.  Lots of ideas for doing that are being floated but we will have to see what the authors themselves would like to do.

Another exciting night lies ahead next week when we visit the Rising Stars TV & Film School again.  This time we are taking reproduction objects and costumes from the 17th century and the students are going to improvise scenes which will explore the experiences of ordinary people in Ashby during the English Civil War.  We are hoping that later in the summer this work will form part of a film which we will make about the English Civil War in Ashby.  After all, Ashby was really at the centre of the action back then with the siege of the Castle etc.

The first of our public guided walks takes place next week on Tuesday 21st May at 7pm from the Museum.  These walks are very popular so make sure you book a place as they are limited to 25 participants.

Finally, an exhibition of Di Lorriman’s 26 colour cartoon paintings of Ashby history will be on show for two weeks from Saturday 25th May as part of Ashby Arts Festival.  Although copies of these wonderful pictures have been on show for some time at floor level for young children, this will be the first time the originals have been on show to the public and they will be at adult height so that you can enjoy all the fascinating details.  If you want to take one away with you, copies are on sale in the Museum shop.

The copyright of this image belongs to Di Lorriman. Please do not make copies.



Going Wild in the West

April is proving to be a quiet month at the Museum although it did get off to a good start with a full house for Robert Jones’ talk on The Story of Market Street.  Today our monthly Kids’ History Club takes you back to the Wild West for some fun make and do activities between 1 and 4pm.  Entry is FREE thanks to Time Consortium Jewelers.

The Museum is open as usual throughout the month but we do need more volunteers to keep up our 6 day a week opening times.  There have been times in the recent bad weather when we have not been able to open due to staff shortages and it is difficult to predict when this might happen.   However, if we have enough volunteers, we can usually arrange cover and keep the Museum open.  If you could spare a couple of hours a month please contact John Miller at the Museum.  He is usually there on Wednesday mornings but you can always leave him a note with your contact details.  We are also looking for people to help with school visits and temporary exhibitions.

Well, we are “taking a breather” during April and gathering our strength for the various special events in May.  I’ll be telling you more about them in the next blog posting but if you can’t wait, have a look at our website.


Digital story telling and oral history

What is happening with the weather?  We will certainly be glad when Spring does finally come.  So many events around the region have to be cancelled because of it.  We have had to cancel our film night tonight when we would have been showing Brian Langtry and Len Holden’s film about the Dirty Thirty.  However, a small exhibition on The Dirty Thirty has been opened today at our Museum and will run until the last week in May.  Photographs of the Dirty Thirty then and now, newspaper cuttings and posters.

Sound Advice, new approaches to oral history, the conference run in London last week by the Museums’ Association certainly lived up to its promise.  First up was Hilary Young, digital curator at the Museum of London with plenty of useful practical advice on converting analogue recordings to digital.  Some of the main messages were:

Know what you want to convert and why, i.e. what will the future use be?

Plan and prepare properly

Make plenty of backup copies on hard drives or in the cloud.  Optical storage such as CDs and DVDs are not good enough.

Next was Jemma Conway, community heritage curator at Barnsley Arts and Museums.  Jemma described an exciting project using sound to find out more about objects and people’s stories (this sounds very much like our Talking Objects project).  They plan to have a community space with a booth with a TV screen and space for visitors to record their own stories.  They began by asking people who donated objects to talk about them but this got out of hand as there were too many donations!  They resolved this by grouping the objects into themes and inviting people to talk about them.   Themes could revolve around the former employees of a particular company, national service, students, and “Coming and Going”.  I thought this could help us plan the way ahead for our Talking Objects project, rather than choosing interesting objects at random.

The projects led to equal importance being placed on the stories as on the objects within the museum but they key thing I thought was that there must be a way for visitors (actual and virtual) to hear these recordings.  They shouldn’t just be sitting on a shelf in the archive which is where our oral archive is at the moment (but not the Talking Objects films).  In Barnsley, local people have been trained and are now working on their own projects and donating them to the museum – great idea!

Julia Letts, oral history producer, talked about oral history projects with schools.  The exciting thing was the way in which she had linked school children with old people in the community and got them talking to each other.  The stories that the old people told were recorded but were also used to inspire further work by the children in art and drama and led to exhibitions and  drama productions.  Julia had plenty of good tips about approaching and engaging schools too.  Some of her projects were low budget or even no budget so no reason why everyone shouldn’t have a go.

Alex Henry, a digital storyteller and oral history practitioner from Curiosity Creative showed us some of the lovely projects she had worked on and we had some interesting discussion around the difference between digital storytelling and oral history.  The main thing seemed to be that the people telling their stories had thought about them beforehand and written them down.  These were not just sound recordings but also included a series of pictures and photographs chosen by the storyteller.  Alex told us “Museums are all about telling stories and collecting history.  Digital stories are little snippets (one or two minutes long) and can bring an otherwise static museum to life.”  We are very keen to try something like this ourselves; another great way of reaching out to the community and giving them a voice and a way of recording their stories in an engaging way.

Tilly Blyth, keeper of technologies and engineering at the Science Museum told us about the use of oral history in the museum’s new communications gallery and how it had acted as a catalyst for change across the wider museum.  User stories are at the heart of the visitor experience there.

Finally, Jo Reilly, Head of participation and Learning at the Heritage Lottery Fund discussed the funding for oral history projects and how these might sit within the body’s new strategic framework which comes on stream in July 2013.

There was a lot to take in but it was very motivating and inspiring.  Also in the same week was the Engaging Children and Young People workshop at Newark at which we gave a short presentation about our participation in this programme.  The main presentation was about Child Protection – a very important but very complex area – so it was good to get some help and clarification and to be pointed in the direction of good online resources.  The Sir John Moore Foundation also gave a very impressive presentation on the projects they run with teenagers, many of whom have become disengaged with school and learning but through projects at the Foundation gain valuable skills and self esteem.

Next week, Robert Jones, trustee and co-founder of our museum, will be giving a talk on the Story of Market Street.  This takes place on Wednesday 3rd April at 7.30 and seats can be booked at the museum.  Robert has lived all his life in Ashby and worked in Market Street himself in the family pharmacy business.  He has collected and wealth of material on this topic and is the author of a book about Market Street.

Our regular Kids’ History Club takes place on Saturday 6th April but note the new time 1pm to 4pm.  It’s FREE entry and the theme is The Wild West.  Many thanks to Time Consortium Jewelers for sponsoring this club.






Art in the Museum

Today was our Art in the Museum day.  We were delighted to welcome five members of the Zouch Art Group who sat and painted or drew throughout the day.  Objects included an old doctor’s bag, an interesting group of pots, a tin hat and a tennis racket.  One person even drew and painted Bullen’s grocery delivery bicycle – not an easy subject!

Leicester Mercury were in this morning so look out for a photo in the newspaper this week.

On Friday a young art student from Derby University visited us.  She will be putting on a small exhibition of her work in our museum in August.

Nice to see young people using the museum as a resource and talking of that we are looking forward to attending the Museum Development event “Engaging Young People and Children” at Newark on Thursday when we will be giving a short presentation about our own events in this field.  Another exciting day is Tuesday when we go down to London to attend the Museums’ Association workshop on using oral history in the gallery.

We’ll be reporting back on both these events next week.  Meanwhile don’t forget to sign up to reserve a seat at our film night on Thursday 28th March, The Dirty Thirty, heroes of the miners’ strike.  There will also be coal-mining related songs from Brian Langtry and Wendy Freer.


Talking Objects films out now

Five more films of people handling and talking about objects from our archives are out now.  Have a look HERE.



More interesting objects

Our bid to give people more access to objects in our archives took another step forward this week.  Three volunteers came in on Friday to handle and discuss some more interesting objects and you will be able to see the results on our website in the next few days.  The objects and the discussions were recorded on film and we are in the process of editing the films now.  Objects included some Victorian children’s costumes, a Napoleonic box, a net purse and a shopping list compiler.

Above is the Napoleonic box.  It is thought to have been made by Napoleonic prisoners of war but we know very little else about it.  Have a look at the film and see what you think.  All suggestions gratefully received.

Our film The Stone has been edited and should be viewable on YouTube and through our website some time in the coming week.  Schools will be hearing about the Children’s Writing Competition this week.

We are looking forward to welcoming Zouch Art Group to the Museum this Saturday, March 16th when they will be painting and drawing in the museum.  They will be choosing objects from our collections as subjects for their artistic efforts so it is yet another chance to see hidden artefacts from our collections.

We are running this event as part of the Ashby Tourist Information Centre’s event Celebrating Tourism which marks the start of National English Tourism Week.  Ashby Library will be filled with stalls, demonstrations and exhibitions by local tourism businesses.  Should be a great day.  Please spread the word.

Advance notice of another event in the Museum:  Thursday 28th March we will be showing a film about The Dirty Thirty, the Leicestershire miners who supported the miners’ strike in 1984.  Based on a book by David Bell, this film was made by local film-makers Brian Langtry and Len Holden.  Before the film there will be a short performance of coal mining related songs by Brian Langtry and yours truly.  Come and support us.  Performance starts at 7.30pm and entry is £3.  Seats can be reserved by calling in or phoning the Museum on 01530 560090.

From March 28th onwards there will also be a small temporary exhibition about The Dirty Thirty consisting of photographs, posters, poems and newspaper articles.  This will run until Thursday 24th May when we will be getting ready for the start of Ashby Arts Festival – more information about that nearer the time.


Camera, lights – it’s a wrap!

What a contrast in the weather this week eh?  Well the highlight of a very exciting week had to be today, Sunday, (yeh I know it is technically next week) with the filming of The Stone with the two young actors from Rising Stars drama school and their teacher who was absolutely fabulous and did most of the camera work!

They really look scared don’t they?  We’ll let you know when the film is finished and you can see what the scary thing is that they’re looking at.  Just to remind you, this will be the start of a mystery story which we are asking local primary school children to continue.  Letters will be going out soon to some 40 schools in North West Leicestershire and just over the border to Derbyshire.  We are looking forward to reading what they make of it all but that won’t be until the summer term with the dreaded SATS test out of the way!

Earlier in the week we welcomed a young student from de Ferrers Academy on a day’s work experience.  We were able to give her a varied day, working in the archives, on the front desk and helping to prepare some materials for a future temporary exhibition.

Talking of young volunteers, we are hopeful that another young volunteer from Ashby School is going to come up with some exciting work in our Young Volunteers project.  She emailed some good ideas yesterday so we are hopeful of a good result shortly.

Wednesday was a snowy day wasn’t it?  We were in Wollaton Hall having a very interesting day with the EMMS Leadership Development programme giving us lots of good business development ideas.  Here was the scene when we came out at the end of the afternoon:


Ashby Museum is getting all arty!

Monday 4th February is when we welcome Zouch Art Club to put up an exhibition of their work.  We have had art exhibitions before but this is the first time an art club has used our space to showcase their work.  I am looking forward to seeing it.

On March 16th, members of the same art club will be coming into the museum to actually paint and draw in the galleries.  We’ll be getting out some artefacts from our archive for them to portray so it will be a chance for visitors to see rarely seen objects as well as watching the artists at work.  We are aware that some of them are a bit shy so don’t stare at them for too long!  Who knows, we may even pick up a brush or a pencil ourselves.

After a meeting with local artist Di Lorriman, the local artist who painted our marvelous cartoon history series, we have decided that during Ashby Art Festival we will hold a bottle drawing workshop.  This will be a “drop in” event with people being able to book a one hour slot to come and draw.  Di will be on hand to support but this is very much a chance to have a go and do something to help the museum.  We will provide the materials and we want people to donate their finished work.  The bottles in question will be from a collection of old and antique bottles which were collected by a young man by the name of David Jaques.  David was tragically killed in a motorbike accident in 1988 at the age of 17.  His parents donated his collection to the museum and they have been in the archive for some time.  This workshop will be a chance to get them out and seen,  commemorate David and add something worthwhile to the collection which will enable us to create a temporary display in the near future.  The workshop is open to artists and anybody who wants to have a go, even if you haven’t put charcoal to paper since you were at school so – don’t bottle up your artistic talents!

Well, Monday saw us back in the workhouse with the year 5 and 6 children, this time from Woodcote School.  The children did some investigating into what children in their part of Ashby were doing in 1851 and were surprised to find how few of them were out at work.  One poor lad was working in the leather works which used to be where the soap factory stands in the Callis.  I was able to show the children a short film which brought home what a smelly and revolting job it was!

On Tuesday we were pleased to welcome back our friends from the Standard Soap Factory who have been working so hard in the basement of the Town Council Offices, sorting out the many hundreds of bars of soap which were donated by the company.   Mind you, we know they enjoyed themselves reminiscing about the old days while they were doing it.  The next stage is for them to create a display of their own in the main gallery, utilising the fake shop windows in Bullens shop.  They are also helping with the writing of a book on the history of the soap factory.

A new experience on Tuesday night was to visit the Rising Stars drama school where we met two young people who are going to act in a short film we are making which will be the starting point for a children’s writing competition.  The big shoot takes place in the museum on a Sunday morning very soon and we are starting at 8am!   These young actors are very talented and we are very grateful to them for giving up their time like this.  We hope our film making will do credit to their efforts – which reminds me, must get on and write the story board!

Speaking of young people, we were delighted to meet two members of staff from Lewis Charlton School on Monday evening.  They are planning to get a group of young people together to take part in our project for young volunteers.  They seemed very keen so I am confident that this project will get off the ground.  Still on the subject of children and young people, I was interested to read in the newsletter of the Association for Independent Museums that the Kids in Museums organisation had run a “Take Over” day in November when children were invited to take over all aspects of the museum for a day.  Pity we didn’t know about this as we would have joined but we must look out for it happening this year.  The children were asked what they wanted in museums and what they didn’t like.  Their ideas included a treasure hunt, less text to read, more things to touch and a better balance between interactive displays and visual ones.  Food for thought there.

Digital Engagement Meeting at New Walk Museum Leicester on Wednesday and as always it was good to meet with other museum colleagues and share ideas.  Sadly, this will be the last meeting organised by Caroline from Renaissance as she is moving to Utah for a while.  We wish her a happy experience and we’ll miss her a lot but hopefully the DEN meetings will live on!

Thursday and Friday was spent at The School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester attending  the isay conference on “visitor generated content”.  It’s quite daunting for a tiny voluntary museum like us to be attending an event like this where you find yourself sitting next to people from Tate Modern and the like.   There were certainly some thought provoking presentations, some from very well known names in the museum world (we got to skype Nina Simon of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in California) but there were plenty of inspiring ideas which we can take from this to use in our little museum.  Two of the ideas I have already launched came originally from a presentation I watched on line before Christmas given by Nina Simon.

Finally, today was Kids’ History Club and the first time we have tried offering it at the new time of 1pm to 4pm instead of 10am to 12 and 1 to 3pm.  A great success, the session was packed out!

I was also thrilled to bits to find that visitors have started to write on my treasure chest thoughts and memories cards; in fact there have been so many contributions I am going to have to print out some more cards.

Fantastic, what a week!


An Exciting Week

Yes, it certainly has been an exciting week.

It started on Wednesday when a local retired vet came into the Museum to start off our “Talking Objects” project.  We had a set of very old veterinary instruments which were donated by the late John Tuckey, formerly a well-known Ashby vet himself.  Our guest was able to tell us all about these old instruments and pretty gruesome they turned out to be!  The result was 8 very short films which can be seen on our YouTube channel or via our Facebook page.  I will soon be putting a link from our website to make them easier to find. Visitors to the Museum can also view three of the films by scanning QR codes on the front of the case containing three of the instruments.

Can you guess what the above veterinary instrument was used for?  It wasn’t very nice!

On Thursday, we had a very exciting day learning about Augmented Reality.  Thanks to Caroline and DEN we had Rob from Digital Welly introducing us to the magic of this latest technology.  Imagine being able to look at a painting like the one below by Ford Maddox Brown, hold your smartphone or tablet up to the painting so that it appears on your device and one of the characters in the picture turns round and starts talking to you.  Seems like science fiction?  It can really be done and you can bet, we’ll be doing it VERY soon!

This afternoon I had a lovely time with the Year 5 and 6 children at Blackfordby Primary School.  They have been studying the Victorians and invited me in to help.  The children were able to look at the 1851 Census of Blackfordby and see how many children in their own village went to work and what they did.  Quite a lot worked in the potteries of Woodville and Swadlincote so we looked at the sort of jobs they did and what the conditions were like.  Two were working in the mines so we looked at a short film to see what conditions were like for them.  Both jobs were absolutely horrible so it was hard to say which was worst.  But what if you didn’t have a job and no money or food?  You can guess, the next visit was the Ashby workhouse.  The children dressed up and we role played entering the workhouse and watched  a couple more short films to show what life was like.

What else? Well, our Treasure Chest of memories is out in the main gallery so we are eagerly awaiting the first contributions.  Art in the Museum (see last post) will take place on 16th March.

Next week looks just as exciting with the start of our project for young people between 14 and 19 and a very interesting two day conference at Leicester University School of Museum Studies, and of course our regular DEN meeting.

See you next week!


About this Sponsor

Ashby Museum was established in 1982 in a small cottage in Lower Church Street. In 1991 it relocated to its present home in North Street, where it shares the old National School building with the town Library and Tourist Information Centre. In 2006-7, thanks to a major Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, a two storey extension was added. It is a Registered Charity and is run by a group of trustees supported by over 50 volunteer custodians. It won the Leicestershire Heritage Award for best temporary exhibitions in 1998, 2001 and 2003. In July 2007, the museum won Museum of the Year in Leicestershire. It works closely with the county Museum Service and other independent museums in the area, sharing expertise and artefacts.