Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
October sees the annual celebration of the United Nations Day for Older People. In Cambridgeshire this is recognised in a month-long programme of events, activities and opportunities for older people as well as celebrating the unique skills and the contributions older generations bring to society.
Last year the University of Cambridge Museums partnered with the Cambridge City Council Community Development Officer for North Cambridge to offer a month-long programme of Tea & Talks for the first time. This year, together we developed the offer and welcomed more collections and opportunities for local older residents to engage with.
The Fitzwilliam Museum commemorated the start of the First World War with Le Grande Guerre, an exhibition of French prints depicting the first seven months of the conflict. Following a First World War themed tour of the city and refreshments, the group were given a guided tour of the exhibition by curator Eleanor Ling.
The Polar Museum provided us with a moving highlight tour of their beautiful objects that culminated with a wonderful reading of Scott’s final letters evoking his courage and constant determination.
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology were so welcoming and gave us an inspiring introduction to their collection. We were enthralled by the flint – no, honestly- and had a fantastic discussion as to how it was manipulated and worked by hand.
The Whipple Museum of the History of Science warmly welcomed us on a damp day with a tour of the collection. For many of the group, it was their first visit to the museum, although one visitor did recall using some of the equipment during his own working life. Everyone also enjoyed using some of the handling objects, although putting together the microscopes proved a challenge for all.
Kettle’s Yard gave us an intimate tour of the house. Julia, the Visitor Assistant, captivated us with a tale of a restorer who was cleaning a painting, and whose cleaning bud smelled of the fires that Jim and Helen Ede would have enjoyed in the house.
As the Museum of Zoology is currently closed, they were able to bring a selection of handling objects to a session at Hobbs Pavilion on Parker’s Piece. This was our opportunity to get hands on with the museum collections and it was fantastic to look so closely, which gave rise to new questions and discussions within the group.
Our visit to the Botanic Garden was damp but inspiring. Seeing the wonderful autumnal colours coming through and catching the fading of the summer blooms with the expert and passionate guides was a pleasure.
We returned to Kettle’s Yard and were delighted to listen to young pianist, Alex Rodzianko, at a lunchtime concert in the house. It was beautiful a place to be captivated by beautiful music.
Our final visit was to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences where Douglas Palmer talked on the theme of Curating Cambridge, we discussed our own passions for collecting and how this is important for museums and their development.
The older people who participated in the sessions were primarily from Cambridge or South Cambridgeshire. For many, it was their first visit to at least one of the museums and having someone introduce the collection brought the objects to life. For others, the visits were a social opportunity to meet friends old and new and to discover new places to visit themselves and with loved ones.
One participant told me:
“ I’d not been to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology before. But after our tour I took my grand daughter there during half term and we had so much fun together looking at the totem pole and trying all the children’s craft activities.”
In the future, we would like to further develop this programme and extend it over the year to compliment the Healthy Walkers events at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Karen Thomas, Community Officer, University of Cambridge Museums