Roshan Gibson: #Expect the Unexpected

Was it a leaked National Trust advert intended to change our brand identity? Was it a spoof campaign or PR stunt? Was it made by us or not? These are the questions that have been circulating NT places since the hilarious video first went viral four weeks ago.

To date over 103,139 people have viewed the video, leaving behind over 200 comments and causing quite a commotion in the world of social media (#ExpectTheUnexpected.) It would seem that hundreds of people from far and wide were just as curious as we were to work out where this video had originated from.

We met with the creators and to our surprise they were a student team briefed by their lecturer to rebrand the National Trust.  We met with the duo to give them a massive pat on the back, but also in the hope that they may collaborate with us in the future. Their video not only made us all laugh, but also inspired us to keep challenging elements of the heritage world which are often perceived as dated and exclusive. 

Roshan Gibson is a trainee on Cultural Co-operation’s Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at the National Trust, London. SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Maheema Chanrai - Fingertip Explorers and Family Fortunes

Fingertip Explorers has been a grounding, consistent project throughout my traineeship. It was my first principal project at BMGA back in August 2013, and has seen me through nine months, three supervisors, two teams and five of the most daunting minutes of mylife. At first glance, it is little more than a family handling activity, the types of which take place at museums across the country on a regular basis. But that’s it: the joy of Fingertip Explorers is just how simple it really is.

The activity involves small groups comprised of one or two families, with a facilitator. The groups have a mystery handling object in their ‘Feely Bag’, and they have to discover more about the object without looking, primarily through touch.  Prompted by the facilitator, the group uses open questioning to find out more about the object, from how it feels, to what it might have been used for, to the era it came from. Emphasis is not placed on figuring out the right answer, but focus is directed towards the creative process that gets participants to think about their objects, and the idea that you can ‘touch but not look’ provides such a refreshing change to the often passive museum experience.


Back in August 2013, my supervisor Louise Evans and I ran four sessions of Fingertip Explorers at M Shed during the summer holidays. I was pleased to note success as the project fulfilled its outcomes; families commented about how much they enjoyed the simple pleasures of working together to uncover history. M Shed’s place as a museum of public history ensured that the objects we used stimulated families to share stories about their past with one another. After we’d finished, I undertook a thorough evaluation of the project, concluding that what was a truly engaging activity needed better promotion as well as a wider range of objects in order to attract repeat and new audiences.


In February, my colleague Alex Hardy and I spoke at the Kids in Museums ‘Family Fortunes’ workshop in Cardiff on the subject of Fingertip Explorers.  Together we gave a ‘Five Minute Blast’ and two half-hour workshops on how to use volunteers and handling objects to encourage intergenerational engagement with a museum’s collections. It was incredibly nerve-wracking attempting to condense something that is essentially in-depth to a room full of experienced professionals, but they reacted well to our presentation and the workshops were well-attended. They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”:  I met one of the attendees again at a later conference, who mentioned that he is hoping to run a version of Fingertip Explorers in his own organisation. High praise indeed!



The process has now come full circle. During the Easter holidays, I will be leading three sessions of Fingertip Explorers at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. We will be using a different set of objects, primarily reflecting our Natural History and World Cultures collections: the objects which provoke the most meaningful reactions are usually those which are transcendental and universal, those which anyone can identify with, appreciate enjoy. We have also invited along families from Bristol’s visually- and hearing-impaired communities, as the sensory dimension of Fingertip Explorers can add an extra level of experience for these visitors.

If you are in Bristol do please come along and experience a rare opportunity to explore museum objects at more than just face value.

Maheema Chanrai is a trainee on Cultural Co-operation’s Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives. SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All views expressed in this post belong to Maheema.

Roshan Gibson: Would the National Trust come to the Diary Room?

The London Project (endorsed by the National Trust) works to reinterpret ‘place’ through the lens of London’s contemporary cultural scene and works to engage a younger, multi-cultural, critical and demanding public. The project seeks to find new ways for Londoners to develop their relationship with the capital’s special places, and strives to support the National Trust in gaining relevance in London where, compared to other areas across the UK, it currently has minimal impact.

In September the National Trust controversially opened up the Big Brother House as a temporary National Trust Property. 500+ ticket holders took part in a volunteer-led tour of the house/studio, learnt about its sociological and historical importance, and were even summoned to the diary room to talk to the voice of Big Brother. There was also the ‘Best Big Brother Housemate Ever’ competition which at first, may have been interpreted as a rather trivial part of the event.  Nevertheless, the stakes of the competition were high and one lucky ex-housemate would win National Trust membership for a whole year— something they were all desperate to get their hands on.

A competition’s a competition and there had to be a winner: in third place came the very lovely two-time champ; regular “Favourite Housemate” poll topper and now ex-Big Brother main show presenter- Brian Dowling. In second place, the late and great reality TV legend who shot to fame during Big Brother 3 and then to global infamy upon her 2007 Celebrity Big Brother return; Jade Goody. And the winner…drum roll please…the unforgettable and outright hilarious, pint-sized tantrum-throwing 2006 Housemate; Nikki Grahame. Right now, you may well be thinking, and quite ironically too, “who is she!?”, and you may also be wondering why on earth this competition is worth talking about at all? 

As I announced the results to diehard Big Brother enthusiasts who’d been Tweeting in daily reminders about the competition, I began to realize that over the last month our social media platforms had not only grown a great deal, but more significantly, the type of content being posted had also changed. Among the comments about the competition results, there were posts from thrilled Big Brother fans:


Comic souvenir photographs taken by our guests…


And some very important discussions about our interpretation of this much condemned studio-cum-TV house-cum-human zoo: 


I had to wonder—would the National Trust have attracted such vibrant and diverse engagement if this event had commanded less of a social media presence? And will the National Trust’s new found London ‘fans’ stay interested in unconventional National Trust activities? When asked in our post event online survey whether or not participants would be likely to attend future events at National Trust properties, 84% of attendees either agreed or strongly agreed that they would and some even aired their new found interest in the National Trust on twitter itself: 


It’s clear that events like this not only offer something fresh to Londoners and the heritage world, but they inspire diverse and unexpected audiences to the National Trust’s work, which in turn, makes us much more socially inclusive and approachable than generally perceived.

For our critics, the opening of Big Brother House and the London Project’s work more generally, is far removed from the National Trust’s vision to ‘protect historic places and green spaces…opening them up forever, for everyone.’ But if we really are concerned with opening historic places for ‘everyone,’ what better place was there to start than the house that’s described by TV critics as ‘the most important house in Britain’ and one that reflects ‘human kind in all its glorious diversity,’ as described by the National Trust’s London Director Ivo Dawnay.

It was great to see the London Project’s relatively new social media platforms not only grow, but become highly engaging. Whilst I still can’t say I’m a fan of Endemol’s BAFTA-award winning Big Brother franchise, I can say that as an aspiring museum professional, I’ve been incredibly inspired by this interpretation of our modern and national heritage. The challenge now? To continue delivering high calibre events that surprise, engage and spark debate!  

Roshan Gibson is a trainee on Cultural Co-operation’s Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at the National Trust, London. SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All views expressed in this post belong to Roshan

Fahima Begum: Sea Life Roadshow at the Nimrod Community Centre in Gosport – 21/02/2014

Image above shows my display from the Sea Life Roadshow.

The Sea Life Art project is part of the activity plan for the museums new galleries. HMS – Hear My Story is a major new exhibition situated in the brand new Babcock Galleries at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. It will open in April 2014 and will tell undiscovered stories from the ordinary men and women who have been part of the Navy’s history over the last 100 years. (

Over the past 3 years, the Sea life Art projects and community Roadshows have run in 5 different areas in Portsmouth, targeting community audiences who do not traditionally engage with NMRN. Each project is aimed at raising awareness of HMS – Hear My Story. It invites communities to bring up to 90 pupils from each area to the museum, to work with professional artists, learn new skills, and create original artwork based on their links to the Heritage of the Royal Navy. Following this, each pupil and their families, along with the wider community will be invited to a Roadshow where the art will be displayed.

On the display I curated, there was a Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) uniform including gloves, shoes, hat, badge and jacket, photos of WRNS recruitment posters, and photos from the WRINS album given to Chief Officer Margaret Cooper in 1946.

There is also a model of a famous cat called Simon. He was found on HMS Amethyst by a Navy officer where he had been badly injured when he was caught in the River Yangtze Incident. However he recovered and was given the role of catching mice to stop the spread of infections. For his services, Simon was later awarded The Dickin Medal for his bravery in 1949. He died in quarantine in the same year.

A highlight from the Roadshow was explaining the history of the WRNS and WRINS with the visitors. They were keen to find out more about the different roles and tasks carried out by individuals in these groups. Through my own research, I have become fascinated by how much the women had contributed to the war efforts and the influence they had on their societies.

Posters showing the campaign to recruit women for the WRNS.

above: Photocopies from WRINS album

Here is a brief background of information on the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) & Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS).

WRENS – The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed in 1917. By 1919 there were 7,000 WRENS and in 1939 a further 3,000 were recruited and given new roles such as cipher operators, meteorologists, coders and many other roles. By 1944 there were 74,000 women in the WRENS. Post-war, only a small number of women were kept on, and mainly worked in administration and supporting roles at Royal Naval Air Stations in the UK and overseas.

WRINS – The Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service was formed in 1942, and by 1945 approximately two thirds of women employed by them were Indian nationals. WRINS took part in discussions, debates and general knowledge tests which proved invaluable in developing the skills and broadening the future outlook of Indian women.

Fahima Begum is a trainee based at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, part of Cultural Co-operations Strengthening Our Common Life Programme.

Simon the Able Sea Cat

Simon was found by Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom who was a member of the crew of the British frigate HMS Amethyst. Simon had been caught in the River Yangtze Incident and was badly injured.However, he recovered and was given the role of capturing the mice’s on the ship. Simon became famous for his bravery and was later awarded The Dickin Medal of the Allied Forces Mascot Club in 1949. He died in quarantine at Hackbridge, Surrey, on 28 November, 1949.

For more information on Simon please visit:


Sarah Fok: ‘Musical Connections to the British Museum’s Collection’ with Tanisa Gunesekura



Whilst the SOCL2 programme offers 14 trainees placements within 14 different house institutions, trainees regularly meet both within the programme (through reciprocal visits) and occasionally outside of it too.

For me, the trainee group itself is as valuable as the traineeship itself, and when opportunities to work with my fellow trainees arise, they’re hard to pass up! As someone living locally to the Horniman Museum, I took part in Nicola Scotts’s Community Fieldworkers project, and earlier this year, Tanisa Gunesekura, SOCL trainee based at the British Museum, joined me in the studio at Resonance 104.4FM

As part of my traineeship at Cultural Co-operation, I am responsible for our weekly radio show on Resonance FM, World City Live. The show usually features members of the Artist Network.

As Cultural Co-operation delivers the SOCL programme, our radio show seemed to be an excellent way to share and showcase the trainees, their work and their host institution’s collections.

Tanisa was the first to volunteer, brimming with ideas from the start. We initially met in October to discuss her ideas and inspiration, and I talked through the process of planning a radio show – selecting a suitable guest, researching them, deciding on topics of conversation and planning the timings, including the music to be played.

We settled on a rough outline for the show connecting objects from the collection with music, and would include interviews with Tanisa’s British Museum colleagues. The ideas were all Tanisa’s, but I helped her hone them to the shape and structure a radio show.

Over the following months, we were both busy with events at work, but continued to communicate over email. I supported Tanisa where I could, for example, making suggested edits for her call-out for interviewees and signposting to help with audio equipment and editting software.

By December,  we set a date for Tanisa‘s radio debut. We met again the Monday before the show took place to run through final details and I then prepared my part of the radio show as usual.

Sharing my learning with someone else enabled me to reflect on my own development (having presented my first radio show on my own in July 2013), but it was an even better experience collaborating with and supporting a fellow trainee in the planning of their own radio show.

Tanisa put in a lot of time and thought preparation for her show, and brought to the radio not only musical connections to the British Museum’s collections, but personal stories and her own infectious enthusiasm. Listen for yourself!

Sarah Fok is a trainee on the Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at Cultural Co-operation.  SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All views expressed in this post belong to Sarah.

Nicola Scott: When the Community Fieldworkers visited the Study Collection Centre

It is unbelievable to think that all the hundreds of objects on display at the Horniman Museum and Gardens only amount to 5% of the collection. The rest is hidden away at a secret location in South East London. To really immerse yourself in the Natural History, Musical Instruments and Anthropology collections you have to visit the museum’s store or, as it’s known, The Study Collection Centre (SCC).

As Co-ordinator of The Community Fieldworkers Project I wanted to give the participants involved the opportunity to experience a part of the museum that is rarely seen by the public. The project itself was based around 18 of the museum’s most important Anthropology objects which included a Roadside figure of the Madonna from Poland and an ornate teapot from India. The 33 Community Fieldworkers who had been selected to take part were sent a series of postcards over 7 weeks, each postcard featuring one of the objects. The Community Fieldworkers were then asked to ‘make, investigate or tell a story’ around the objects.


This project allowed the individuals involved to explore the collection in a more immersive and creative way. The information supplied on the postcard was taken directly from our Collections Management database ‘Mimsy XG’. The ‘Materials’, ‘Size’ and, if known, ‘Date made’ were all detailed on the postcards. A brief description and the location of the object sparked off an adventure into the objects’ histories and purpose.

While the project was tailored for individuals, I organised a Training day and meet –ups at which the Community Fieldworkers could come together to discuss their thoughts and ideas. At the training day, Anthropologist and Goldsmiths Lecturer Charlotte Joy explained her Fieldwork and discussed anthropology within the context of a museum. A few weeks later, when we came together with the first 6 postcards in hand, the most popular amongst the objects were becoming apparent. The Marshall Island Navigation Chart that represented the wind and wave currents and was used as a teaching tool really caught people’s imagination. The dying technique of the Nigerian Shirt with its soft blues and white shapes and charters was also of intrigue.

When organising the trip to the SCC I prepared by choosing a selection of the objects that appeared on the postcards. Collection Access Officer Sarah Mahood and I completed a Risk Assessment, this allowed us to plan the most accessible route for the tour of the building and highlight potential hazards, for example the running rails of the shelving units could be a potential tripping hazard. We laid out all the objects in advance, and talked through the days schedule.


On the day I collected the first group of Community Fieldworkers at the museum and accompanied them on a bus to the SCC. We were given a tour by Sarah and then had the opportunity to look at the objects close up. The handling session allowed the Community Fieldworkers to get a greater understanding of the objects they were focusing their project work on. The scale, colours, textures and weight of the object all added to their knowledge of how the objects may have been made and used. This greater insight into the objects informed the responses they created to them. The tour of the SCC itself, and seeing the way the objects were stored inspired some of the Community Fieldworkers to focus their project on the idea of what an object was in the context of a museum. Its purpose and meaning changing from, for example, a tool to an object of research. The SCC trip was greatly received and was one of the highlights of the entire project. 


What I have learnt from the organisation and facilitating of the Meet-ups and the SCC tour is that a major part of engagement is the relationships formed and social inclusion that occurs when people are involved in a project. The interaction and understanding of the objects in the Anthropology Collection is a fantastic starting point for personal development, and sharing that experience is extremely rewarding for those involved.  It is wonderful for the Museum to see how people relate to the collections and exploring them. Storing the Project and its responses in the ‘Use of Collections’ field on the Collections Management database will inform future generations of how the public engaged with and interpreted these objects. 

Nicola Scott is a trainee on Cultural Co-operation’s Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at the Horniman Museum. SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All views expressed in this post belong to Nicola.

Celebrating our SOCL Achievements

Last week the SOCL trainees came together for our mid-term review. To kick off the proceedings, each trainee had 60 seconds to share an achievement from their placement so far. Below are a few snapshots from the presentations - check out the SOCL trainees in action!

Above, Tanisa shares some of her experiences on her traineeship with the British Museum.

Here we have Nicola talking us through some of the interesting work she’s been doing at the Horniman Museum.

Finally, we have Chloe describing some of the highlights from her traineeship with the Foundling Museum.

Fahima Begum: Restoration work on the historic Steam Pinnace

Amongst the collection of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth (NMRN) is a 50 foot steam vessel known as Pinnace 199. As part of my learning experience at the NMRN, I was given the opportunity to visit The Maritime Workshop located in Gosport where the Steam Pinnace is being rebuilt by Group 199. The aim of my visit was to find out more about the Steam Pinnace 199 and see the work in process as it is being restored.

What is a Steam Pinnace?

A Steam Pinnace is a wooden –hulled boat of around fifty feet in length, powered by steam machinery that was carried aboard the Royal Navy’s largest warships in the early years of the twentieth century. In August 1911, when Britain’s Royal Navy ruled the waves, the newly-built Steam Pinnace 199 was transported from her builder, Samuel White of Cowes, to a Tyneside shipyard to begin work as a battleship’s picket boat. The purpose of a Pinnace was to protect dreadnought battleships at anchor from torpedo attack.

The Steam Pinnace 199 is operated today as she would have been in 1911 with a crew of seven: a coxswain,, two bowmen (a man who has duties at the front of a boat) a sternsheetsman (someone standing on the front deck of an open boat) a fender boy and two stokers. They wear the uniforms and badges of the period and follow the drills of the Edwardian Navy.

During my visit I was amazed to discover the enthusiasm and commitment the teams of men and women have for rebuilding of the Steam Pinnace. As of July 2013, over 8,100 hours of volunteer labour have gone into the project in addition to the employment of a full time shipwright at the workshop. I found my visit educational in terms of discovering the importance of the Steam Pinnace 199 and how much work has been put into it to ensure the boat looks accurate to the era, and feels perfect for when it will be used in a couple of months.

Group 199 who are behind the restoration of the Steam Pinnace have a monthly e-newsletter which is distributed to over 100 volunteers, supporters and museum staff. If you would like to get involved please click here to get in touch with the project at NMRN.

Below are some photographs which I took during my visit to the workshop, alongside also images kindly provided by Commander Martin Marks OBE.


The Engine – Built A.G Mumford & Co., Colchester, the present engine, like the original, is a compound of 6 ½ + 13’’ x 8’’ stroke, with a piston valve on the HP cylinder, and a slide valve on the LP cylinder. A typical operating speed today is 280rpm, which drives the hull at around 8 knots.


Work on the hull, decks and structure is nearly complete bar final coats of paint and varnish.


199 with Admiral Warsop


Picture of Steam Pinnace, date unknown.


199 early RNM (Royal Naval Museum)


199 and Mersey 320


199 as she is today, rigged with garlands for a wedding.




Sufea’s Valentine’s Day Selections


Clockwise, from top left: John Martin - The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, 1827; Rene Magritte - The Lovers, 1928; Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema - Love in Idleness, 1912

Frederick J. Shields - A Mother Teaching God is Love, 1900

Clockwise, from top left: John G. Lough - Cupid and Psyche, 1876; Claude Lorrain - Landscape with Narcissus and Echo, 1644; Cy Twombly - Hero and Leandro Part 1, 1984