Inspiring ideas from York

Despite last Monday’s storm, I eventually made it to York in time for a study day at York Minster, organised by the Group for Education in Museums (GEM). It was great to see an established and highly successful HLF-funded learning and outreach programme in action, and I came away with lots of ideas that we might be able to apply on a smaller scale at Great St Mary’s.

Here are some pictures, and some aspects of the learning set up at York which particularly impressed me:

 

  • 3D printed models of the church through time – with the earlier (smaller) buildings slotting inside the later additions
  • Tactile lift-the-flap information panels to alleviate ‘museum fatigue syndrome’ and entice visitors into interacting with information
  • Blocks to construct gothic and romanesque arches
  • An emphasis on the people (past and present) who make up the Minster community – from clergy to cleaners, librarians to volunteer guides, masons to deans
  • Beautiful, streamlined interactive touchscreens – especially the annotated York Gospels, with key Latin sections highlighted and translated, and the keys to the East window’s iconography and Biblical symbolism
  • Lots of Biblical and historical quotations used to interpret the architecture and imagery
  • Films about Constantine, hidden gems of the Minster and Minster life today – very little text, letting the visuals speak to all visitors
  • Explorer back-packs for families
  • Glossaries to help visitors with unfamiliar ecclesiastical vocabulary
  • Friendly, engaging volunteers on hand to chat and interpret as needed
  • Visual timelines of the development of the East window, with a section showing events from across the world – great idea to orient visitors from overseas in the Minster’s chronology
  • Focus on craftsmanship, past and present, as an opportunity for hands-on experience (and a non-intrusive way to appeal for donations)
  • Heritage, culture and worship coexisting in a beautiful space
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    • ‘Minster on the move’ – visits to local primary schools with handling materials to assess needs and build trust in advance to a visit to the Minster
    • Converting participation in targeted projects to regular visits: local school art projects displayed in Minster; parents invited to evening exhibition – resulted in new participation in family activities
    • Training for volunteer guides – collaborating to build a common structure for tours to ensure consistency of length, key themes and a two-way conversation with visitors, rather than a monologue – learning within the organisation as well as with visitors
    • Importance of regular tour times which can be advertised and sensitivity to visitors’ learning styles and different levels of existing knowledge – specialist themed tours a possibility
    • Developing financial sustainability through adult education and leisure learning courses: embroidery, flower arranging, wreath making, drawing
    • Ideas for commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January
    • The church filled with families drawing, learning and exploring
    • Ancient and ultra-modern co-existing in the space, with ‘the orb’ at the East End and the many interactive displays

    It was an inspiring day, and I found it especially helpful that GEM provides a forum for heritage learning officers working across different organisations (cathedrals, museums and churches) to share ideas and expertise.

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