Using Collections to Write Poems: a Museum Staff Workshop by Helen Clare

Our Poet-in-Residence, Helen Clare, invited Museum staff to engage in a workshop to help them to create their own poem.  She shared with us the techniques she has used in creating her own poetry, which included the creation of ‘poemlets’ that we blogged about earlier this year. The activity also demonstrates that these techniques can be shared with visitors to facilitate using the collection as inspiration for creative writing.


Helen on Manchester Gallery sharing her poem writing techniques with staff

Using this poemlet technique as a starting point staff were asked to find 3 or 4 objects that inspired them on from our Manchester Gallery and then use a line from their resulting poemlets to develop a longer rhyming poem. In the spirit of sharing, here’s three of my poemlets and the resulting poem I developed using various lines from each.

Once upon a time in Manchester,
Sharp and clean but only now;
A giant cat sauntered here.  – Lion’s Tooth

Illegal, bad and guilty,
A thing of beauty: look at me!
Some things were not made for blood. – Dagger

Spices, smells, so many options built over time.
Fill me, use me, breathe in my tangy scent.
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone. – Spice Rack

Poem: Culture Clash
Some things are not made for blood,
Sharp and clean, now used for good.
The owner, once a feared man, lost in history, all but gone.
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.

A thing of beauty: look at me.
Come slowly closer, what might you see?
A forgotten daughter, parents and abandoned son,
Cultures clashing: a pinch of spice for everyone.

I have to say, for a Monday morning activity I am surprisingly pleased with my effort given that we only had around 40 minutes to spend on our poems. The techniques are easy enough to suggest to visitors as an activity, and we got to hear some of Helen’s Museum-inspired poetry, which is always a treat.

It can be daunting [to write poetry] but actually it was quite inspiring. It was a safe environment and Helen was very encouraging. To start out the week creating something was lovely.” – feedback from staff member.


Staff share some of their poemlets on Living Cultures

The instructions for the staff workshop can be found on Helen’s blog, but you don’t have to be a member of staff to have a go yourself. And if you can’t make it to the Museum, check out our Flickr account to see pictures of many of our objects and galleries for inspiration.

Feel free to share your work in our comments section below.

Helen will be showcasing her new schools workshop developed from this Arts Council funded project during the October Half Term.

Juice from Oranges, Rocks from Space
Wed 26 Oct
11.30am – 12.15pm & 1.30-2.15pm
A new poetry performance from Helen Clare, about exhibits from around the museum; where they came from and the journey they’ve made. There will be happy poems, sad poems, gory poems and fun poems – and opportunities for children to join in and create too.

Find out about the giant carved tusk, a moth, bloodworms, a man who was murdered and left to rot in a bog, a Greek God, Stan the T. Rex, and an ancient rock from out of space.

For children aged 8-12 and their parents/carers
Free, book on or 0161 275 2648


Join The Natural History Museum’s Microverse project


The Natural History Museum are looking for secondary schools across the UK to collaborate with them on cutting-edge genetic research.

Perfect for A-Level Biology classes or equivalent, The Microverse aims to discover and better understand microorganisms that survive in extreme urban environments.

The project explores buildings as habitats where microorganisms have little access to nutrients, experience both wet and dry conditions, and can be exposed to high levels of pollution.

Schools will collect microorganisms from a local building and send them to the Natural History Museum for DNA analysis.

All participating schools will receive a free pack that includes:

  • full instructions
  • all the equipment you need to take part
  • suggested lesson plans and supporting resources
  • a results report once the samples have been DNA sequenced

Visit The Microverse page on the Natural History Museum’s website to sign-up for this fantastic citizen science project.


Research in Action: Burying the Middens

Some of the Midden Students with Cat and Sam from the Museum

Some of the Midden students with Cat and Sam from the Museum

On Friday 8th November Year 9 students from Matthew Moss High School invovled in our Midden Project created their own ‘archaeological rubbish heaps’ on school grounds. Our Senior Conservator, Sam Sportun, and I went into school to help them create their own middens. They had chosen four different materials for their middens to be made from: gravel, sand, compost and mulch. These were chosen to represent various environments and to vary the results that the students will get from their chosen objects.

Each student had identified at least one object that they were placing in one of the four middens. Before depositing them they each made a visual record of their object through drawings, took a photograph and hypothesised about what might happen to each object based on the material of both the object itself and the midden it was to be placed within.

Matthew Moss' budding photographer recording the creation of the middens for the school record.

Matthew Moss’ budding photographer recording the creation of the middens for the school record.

There were discussions about what might happen differently in each of the middens – how the mulch would be decomposing itself and thus provide heat and how the gravel would allow rain to seep through. In addition, students questioned how their own objects might change over the course of their time in the midden (around 6-8months) and theorised what might happen to each substance their objects were made from.

I think the students would all agree that the best part of the session was actually burying their objects in the middens themselves. Over the next few months we’ll be investigating in more detail what happens to objects underground using the Museum’s archaeological collection and updating the students’ hypotheses in anticipation of excavating their middens in 2014!

Creative Practioner Wanted!

Last year's midden

Last year’s midden

Manchester Museum are seeking a Creative Practitioner to create some artwork in collaboration with Year 9 students working on The Midden Project: Research in Action.

This project is a partnership with Matthew Moss High School and the Museum to create, analyse and investigate the archaeological properties of ancient man-made deposits for disused items, often known as middens.

For more information and how to apply please see:  Artist Brief, Midden

For Informal enquiries please email

The Midden Project: Research In Action

On Monday 15th July the Manchester Museum was pleased to welcome one-hundred and forty six Year 8 Matthew Moss High School students to take part in an Archaeology Enrichment Day.

The day was planned to introduce the new partnership between the Museum and Matthew Moss on our Midden Project: Research in Action.

Creating the Midden 2

Last year’s Midden creation

You may recall that we did a similar project with eight of their school students last year. Well, Matthew Moss were so pleased with the benefits that the project had for those involved that they have partnered up with us again to deliver a more structured programme on the same topic.

In the 2013-14 academic year the Museum will support a number of Matthew Moss students on their Level 2 Project Qualification by helping them create and investigate their own Midden (the name for an archaeological rubbish dump). Students who want to work with the Museum will self-select and apply to be a part of the Midden Project: Research in Action throughout Year 9.

The Enrichment Day, which was packed full of activities to introduce students to some of the skills and ideas behind the project, gave them a taste of what they might get involved in during their Project, thereby helping those who were interested decide to apply for the partnership work as part of their Project qualification.

It was a fantastic day with a selection of nine different activities that smaller groups of students could carousel around. These included:

  • A session with the Museum’s Conservation team examining how we preserve artefacts from the past
  • Practical activities about the Science behind conservation looking at the effects of salt, detergents and glues on objects
  • A workshop on ancient Egypt and the unique environment that allowed survival of some fascinating historic artefacts led by our British Museum Curator Intern
  • On-gallery sessions with our team of freelancers about what items from the past can tell us, how fossils are formed and the invaluable role minerals form in our daily lives

We also provided supporting resources for the Group Leaders to deliver activities on other galleries and encourage their students to explore the Museum’s collection in meaningful ways. Check out the photographs below to see a selection of the students enaged inactivities on the day!

All in all I think it was a great start to the partnership and demonstrated a flavour of what the project could be to the students of Matthew Moss High School. We’re really excited to be a part of this partnership and looking forward to starting the project proper in September by creating some more Middens.

Look out for more updates about our Midden Project: Research in Action, coming soon…

Can Babies enjoy museums?

In the development of our sessions for babies in museums and galleries in Manchester, we were (quite rightly!) challenged by colleagues about the level of participation there would really be for babies. We were asked,
Aren’t the sessions really just for the benefit of parents?’
‘Can babies really enjoy museums?

I posed the question ‘Can babies really enjoy museums?’ to parents attending a Baby Explorer session at Manchester Museum and added, ‘How do you know? ‘
The question did take our parents by surprise! They couldn’t understand why anybody would doubt that their babies were enjoying and participating in the sessions, which for them as parents, was clearly evident.

The many fabulous images we have taken and the short films we have produced, do capture the engagement levels of babies in our sessions, but like anything else, this is far more powerful (and evident) if you experience it directly.
One of our members of staff, who was initially sceptical about the opportunities for babies to truly participate in the sessions, attended one of our baby explorer session and commented afterwards,

‘I think babies can enjoy museums because it’s a totally different environment from other surroundings and they interact with different things than they would usually….they focus on what is being shown them and seem enraptured by what is going on including the storytelling and singing.’

Here is a selection of the feedback we had from parents ……

· It’s helped her to notice things more in other places too. These sessions really help to develop her concentration. I notice when she misses a session.

· Fabulous sensory learning aimed at the age group appropriately. My baby LOVES this. He is active, wide eyed, bouncy and afterwards he sleeps! Thank you.

· Development of motor skills by holding and touching objects. Babies’ eyes lit up concentrating for lengths of time. Staying quiet during singing (attention and listening).

· So many things to see and feel- nothing like home environment. I know how much he enjoys it because he cries when we leave!

Lets keep developing the practice and collecting the evidence of impact, to make the case for more babies in and museums and galleries nationally.

Elaine Bates, Early years coordinator, Manchester Museum

Creative Exposures: Tameside College Photography Exhibition

We’ve been really lucky this year to be able to work with Tameside College‘s Photography students again this year, creating an exhibition that is inspired by the Museum’s collection.

On the 1st March the students were invited into the Museum, given tours of the galleries and collection stores and encouraged to document their visit with photographs. This then formed the basis of their brief:

“Students will be working with Manchester Museum to produce work for an exhibition, in response to the Museum’s collection. They will be utilizing the techniques in the darkroom and the studio to produce a body of work shot on film on either Large or Medium Format cameras,  in the studio and printed in the darkroom”

They had until the 27th March to create three final images each, with at least one of each going into the exhibition.

On the 19th March I was asked to go into the College and ‘critique’ the work done so far; to identify the final images for the exhibition and encouraging the students to write labels to accompany their pieces. I was amazed by the thought and detail that had gone into every example of the work done by each student. They had taken elements from the collection and considered them from multiple angles, linking very complex concepts with inspiring ideas and creative input.

Some of the aspects the students were using in their work included using the Zoology specimens to examine the protective layer that animals have – including humans – and metaphorically demonstrating this through masks. There were numerous reflections on the Egyptology collection, scrutinising the means of communication – hieroglyphic script – and translating that into imagery associated with the way we communicate today – via clothing or graffiti, in addition to the mummification process and the preservation of memory and stories.

Some students were intrigued by the idea of what occurs behind the scenes at the Museum – the specimens we keep hidden in stores, and the means by which we classify the collection. This led to responses associated with the food chain,  – linking in with the recent horse-meat scandal – dominance in the natural world and the issue of domestic violence (represented by bruised fruit), change over time – as evidenced by Darwin – and how we label not just things, but people.

The exhibition opened on Friday 29th March and has been in place for two weeks, with the closing date on Sunday 14th April. It looks fantastic in our Alhambra space between the Egyptian World gallery and Living Worlds, and there have even been interactive elements for our visitors to become part of the legacy of the project.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic exhibition and the students have done brilliantly as part of the project; they should all be very proud.

Celebrating Manchester’s History

We were very excited to work with our colleagues from Widening Participating, and one of our Partnership institutions, Whitworth Art Gallery, on creating two, one day workshops  for Secondary students concentrating on Manchester’s History.

This followed on from our successful model last year, as part of the Manchester Histories Festival, where various schools brought students to participate in workshops at the Whitworth and the Museum. They were also treated to an introductory lecture on Manchester’s history – this year – by Professor John Pickstone.

Histories objects

Objects used during Collecting the World workshop at Manchester Museum

As part of the Museum’s workshop, called Collecting the World, students were asked to investigate the collection and determine how, and why, it ended up in Manchester. They identified objects of interest on the Manchester Gallery and their links to the city. Then they were allocated objects from the collection not on display and asked to research them using online resources to find their link to Manchester. They were encouraged to consider sources of their information and the relevance any connected individuals had to their home city.

All in all it was really wonderful to be able to focus on Manchester’s history and how the Museum’s collection links to the city and illustrious indviduals  – such as William Boyd Dawkins, Jesse Haworth, Joseph Whitworth and Lydia Becker – not to mention highlight historical Manchester events such as the Exhibition of Art Treasures, the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal and the Peterloo Massacre.

ship canal medal

Manchester Ship Canal Medal

Questioned at the end of the session on which object they felt best represented Manchester’s History, the majority of students chose the Ship Canal Medal due to it’s links with trade and economy that helped make Manchester the hub of industry in the North and contributed to it becoming known as ‘Cottonopolis’!

Many thanks to all those invovled on the day: Stockport School, Parrs Wood HS, Manchester Health Academy, Manchester Enterprise Academy, Alder Community School, Cardinal Langley RC HS, Loreto High School.

We’ll  be repeating these fantastic local history focused days next year during the Manchester Histories Festival celebrations.

The Manchester Museum Comes To You

Pupils from Wilbraham Primary School get hands on with Ancient Egyptian objects.

The Manchester Museum’s redeveloped ‘Museum  Comes To You’ schools outreach offer is coming soon!

We have a brand new Egypt exploration session where you can help to solve the mystery of a raided tomb, learn about and handle ancient Egyptian objects and have a go at making your own scarab beetle or Egyptian headdress!
We have been super impressed by the love and knowledge that primary schools from far and wide have for all things Egyptian and can’t wait to visit more and more amazing schools. Watch this space for more information…

Animal Explorers visit

On Thursday 24th May, a group of children, staff and parents from Wetherby street children’s centre, Openshaw, visited the museum for our early years animal Explorers session which was led by one of our freelance staff, Karl Harris .

Children from Wetherby children’s centre taking part in an animal explorer session

The session began in the Nature Discovery gallery with the story ‘Polar bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear ?’ ( Bill Martin junior and Eric Carle) and the group were fabulous at making all the animal noises, including the more unusual animals like the peacock and hippo! Then, dressed as animal explorers, complete with hats and binoculars and armed with a bag of ‘clues’, the group looked for the animals in the story on the Living Worlds gallery, Bird gallery and Vivarium. At the end of the session , Adam from the Vivarium brought one of the lizards down to meet the group. One of the children asked if the lizard had a name and as it doesn’t, he invited them to name it. They have suggested Fillip, Tigger or Mango Ba Jango – so watch this space!

Children from Wetherby children’s centre meet a friendly lizard from our Vivarium

Comments from parents who supported the visit, said that the museum was interesting with a wonderful atmosphere. One parent said her daughter is still talking about the visit and making animal sounds. She particularly liked the use of props and being able to touch live animals helped to deal with fears/phobias .

The staff agreed that children thoroughly enjoyed the visit and the timing of the session and variety of activities were  appropriate for the age of the children and held their interest.
The impact of the visit has been evident in the play and language the children are using back at the centre. When reading another story the children were able to identify the peacock from Polar bear, Polar Bear and they also remembered the letters and the animals being on holiday.
Most importantly they had lots of fun!
For further information about our early years programme, visit our website.
To make a booking, ring Jill Anderton, our bookings coordinator on 0161 275 2630