‘Through play they show us’: how Thinktank co-produced the cool Minibrum gallery with Early Years children

The Minibrum gallery and associated learning and community engagement programmes were co-produced entirely with Early Years children (0-8 years old), their families, specialists and educators, and expert advisory panels. In creating Minibrum, Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) broke new ground, becoming the first UK Science Centre to create a STEM-learning gallery and programme entirely dedicated to this age group.

Just as lockdown began in March 2020, I started work on the evaluation of the fascinating MiniBrum project at Thinktank in Birmingham. Over the next 18 months I worked with staff from BMT and a range of experts to create tools that ensured the young children’s responses were at the heart of the evaluation as well as the development.

The co-production team was led by an Early Years Specialist and supported by an Advisory Board and Working Group that included both external stakeholders and staff from across BMT’s Learning and Engagement, Curatorial, Conservation, Operations and Commercial teams.

The children, their families, education and community organisations were involved in all aspects of design from the developing the content and layout of the toilets, café and gallery zones, to the focus of the learning and events programming. The project team also drew on expertise from academics, STEM providers, teachers, parents, health and community workers.

When MiniBrum opened to the public in May 2019 it was an immediate hit with families, schools and children’s groups. Throughout lockdown BMT continued co-production work online, on and offsite with children, schools and community groups to develop further elements including the Jewellery Factory exhibition, early years planetarium show and multi-sensory family activities.

Observing the galleries and activities today, it’s a delight to see how confidently babies, infants and young children use the spaces playfully and imaginatively to explore STEM in the world around them.

The following 2 pdf guides were created at the end of the project to provide 9 top tips to co-production with this challenging and inspiring age-group. Feel free to download and share with your colleagues!

Note that I will be discussing the project evaluation at the Visitor Studies Group annual conference on 13 May 2022

Minibrum was supported by a grant from the Inspiring Science Fund, a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome.  Between 2017 and 2021, 16 nurseries and primary schools, 6 community organisations and 3 universities took part in MiniBrum co-production activity.


After the Interval and other CoViD19 Recovery Research

There’s no need to dwell on the weird times in which we live and work right now – I’ll save that for another post – but I have found it helpful to see the emerging research that might help us to regroup and recover in future.

We are all concerned about the implications of CoViD19 restrictions in relation to our work, our social lives and our families.  For me, every day brings another *Gasp!* moment, when I think of another link in the chain that might potentially be lost – I can’ only support one of those at a time…

Here, I’ve collected together links to some of the material I’ve found useful to my thinking so far and I will add more over time.  It’s not exhaustive, and I’m afraid I haven’t had chance to absorb the findings enough to provide any incisive synthesis, but I hope you might find something here of value to your own plans.


A useful panel debate between professionals drawn from Birmingham’s public, arts, finance, commercial, property and retail sectors. 

It took place on 19 May 2020 and from it I gained an illuminating insight into the interconnectedness of all things, of how tricky it will be, when trying to recover the life of our richly complex city,  to reconnect the circuits and ensure that as few people get left behind as possible.

The chair was Marc Reeves, Editor-in-Chief, Business Live, and the speakers were:

  • Councillor Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council
  • Lara Ratnaraja, Freelance Cultural Consultant
  • Mark Orton, Partner, KPMG
  • Nicola Fleet-Milne, Chair, Colmore BID and CEO, FleetMilne Property
  • Sam Watson, Chair, Retail BID and General Manager, Selfridges
  • Steve Banham, Divisional Director, Brewin Dolphin

You can find a lot more material on the KPMG website about business and commercial recovery which will help you to get a view of the wider picture.


To better understand the status quo and what might come next, NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations) launched a survey to map COVID-19’s impact on the European museum sector.  The results were published on 12 May 2020 in a report with accompanying recommendations. NEMO will continue to support the museum sector with information about the situation as well as monitoring re-opening plans.

In planning for a life beyond lockdown, and for re-opening, we need to know how our audiences feel.  It’s essential to understand how keen they are to return, what they miss the most and how we can make our visitors and our workforce feel confident enough to come back.

After the Interval (Indigo) has been designed to capture audience views how they feel about missing out on live events during lockdown, booking tickets now and in future and what they feel about returning to live arts events.

ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) have commissioned Decision House to undertake similar Recovery Tracker research to build an understanding of how the sector can build trust and confidence among the attractions-visiting public.

Both have released wave 1 reports (relating to surveys carried out in April) on their websites (click on the links above). These reports will added to as the waves continue, with final reports planned for October 2020.

ALVA posed two major practical questions that attractions are likely to have ahead of re-opening:

  1.  How should we physically present ourselves on re-opening to build public trust and confidence in visiting?
  2.  What communications messages should we put out there to build confidence and capture the public mood?

Some headlines from the ALVA Wave 1 report indicates how cautious the respondents feel, even at an early stage in lockdown when the full implications of how long restrictions might last was unclear:

  • The tracker indicates a growing anticipation of visiting attractions within the next 3-6 months, perhaps a reaction to horizons for overseas travel becoming further away
  • Market is highly cautious overall, but a quick return is more likely for gardens and country parks.
  • Many potential visitors are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach in fear of a second wave of the virus.
  • A significant proportion of attraction visitors are currently feeling that they will not return until a vaccine is available or the virus at least appears to be comprehensively beaten.
  • Caution is widespread, but there are some groups who are more likely to return as soon as the opportunity arises.
  • Around two thirds of the market will feel increased anxiety about a visit, so reassurance before and during a visit will be critical. Anxiety appears to be less related to the type of attraction.
After the Interval Wave 1 findings echo this caution:
  • 93% of respondents are missing live events; 74% miss the buzz of the audience, and 55% look forward to supporting their local arts venue.
  • Only 17% are actually buying tickets now; 75% would want some form of safety measure to be in place before they return; and 28% would prefer to stay away from large gatherings, even when events get back underway.


Lockdown life has forced people online and accelerated our need to understand, embrace and develop our skills in operating in the digital realm.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has commissioned research in to  digital attitudes and skills in the heritage sector.  Your responses will inform their strategic funding direction in the coming months so it’s really helpful to take part. They are seeking to find out:

  • What key digital attitudes and skills heritage staff and volunteers already have.
  • What new uses of digital technology they would like to explore.

The survey is open to UK heritage organisations of all sizes so sign up and participate here: Digital Attitudes and Skills for Heritage (DASH) survey


National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC)-led cross-sectoral working group is developing good practice guidance on museum reopening with DCMS’ support. The approach is guided by the safety of visitors and staff, and financial sustainability. The guidance acknowledges the complexity of the sector, where each museum will be working within a unique set of circumstances and responding to local contexts. The guidance will be available in early June.

Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums, has been collecting a series of CoViD19 resources, plans and guidelines for re-opening from venues across Europe and sharing this material on their website. There’s a lot of material here and the site is well worth rummaging about on – material has been submitted from all over Europe so you might need Google translate as well!



Women on boards

Having read the rather disappointing excuses proffered by ‘executives at the UK’s biggest firms’ in response to the Hampton-Alexander review currently being carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills concerning the low number of women yet appointed to the boards of FTSE companies, I chanced upon the following article from 1899 calling for women’s representation on the boards of organisations whose decisions directly affected them.

In  July 1899, Mrs Day presented a paper to the Annual Meeting of the Women’s Co-operative Guild: Women on Management Committees: A Few Reasons why Women should sit on Management Committees of Co-operative Societies.  The paper is available to download for free from Archive.org.

The Women’s Co-operative Guild is rather fabulous – established as The Women’s League for the Spread of Co-operation in 1883, before changing its name to the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1885. Set up to provide women with a voice within the co-operative movement, it provided a forum for working women to agitate for better working and living conditions, education, welfare and economic support. You can find out more at the National Co-operative Archive.

In 1899, Mrs Day presented 5 key reasons why women should be appointed to the men-only Co-Operative Society boards, the first of which was to point our how many other major public institutions already counted women on their governing bodies:

Women are considered to be qualified to sit on poor-law boards as guardians, to look after the supplies needed, both of food, clothing, shoes, housing, nursing, educating, in fact, everything referring to poor-law work, which involves the spending of many thousands of pounds of public money, and their judgment upon samples of goods is accepted, and their advice acted upon. The same rule applies to school boards. How many women now occupy seats throughout the country? Their judgment is sought not only upon the matters directly relating to education, but on the erection and furnishing of palatial school buildings. Women are considered not to understand plans and drawings of buildings ; still, they are making these things their study, and I have never yet read or heard of a woman either on poor-law or school boards shirking any part of her work; but always willing, and desirous to do their part of the work faithfully and well. If we, as women, can take our share in the work of these public bodies, can we not also do the same in the management of our societies? The duties are not more difficult, the responsibilities more great, nor the strain more severe. We do not desire to take the places of competent men on these management committees; but we do claim, as members of the same societies, with equal interests at stake, our right to share the duties of management, and bring to the work a calm and clear judgment on all matters brought before us, free from bias.

No one, I think, will dare to say, after what I have stated, we are not capable of carrying out our duties. Women must and will take their places on the boards of our co-operative societies in the future, much more so than in the past. If women are considered qualified to sit on the Central Board of the Co-operative Union, sex being no barrier to election, I think the day is not far distant when on the management committee of every co-operative society in the kingdom, whose rules admit to membership both sexes equally, at least one or two women should be found.

The requested change did not come about swiftly, but it did eventually take place – for further information, read Nicole Robertson’s paper ‘Women as organised consumers: the case of the co-operative movement’ (Economic History Society, 2008).

It still seems to be working.  Data collected for International Women’s Day 2016 finds that there are twice as many female directors of the UK’s largest retail co-operatives than there are of FTSE companies.

Co-operatives UK continues to champion the importance of inclusivity from the shopfloor to the boardroom.  It’s worth looking at the Co-operative Women’s Challenge in 2011, a campaign that seeks to ensure women are fairly represented at all levels within the co-operative movement. The challenge aims by 2020 to promote:

  1. Fair representation in the democratic structures of co-operatives
  2. More women in senior management roles and
  3. A wider campaign for gender equality across the economy and society.

When Mrs Day made her case in 1899, I wonder if she had any idea how long it would take for the change to take effect?


Happy customers at the Home, Food & Family in WW1 conference

Last month, I was delighted to be involved in the organisation of the Home, Food & Family in World War One conference at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings on 5 March 2016.

The event was part of the work I am doing for the University of Worcester’s Volunteers & Voters project, and was organised by Professor Maggie Andrews for the Women’s History Network (Midlands), with financial support from AHRC Voices of War & Peace and the Economic History Society.

This conference explored how housewives, children and the home played a part in producing, preserving and preparing food during World WarOne. The Dig for Victory campaigns of the Second World War have a firm place within popular consciousness yet the similar activities engaged in by people on Britain’s Home Front in World War One, when food became a weapon of war, have hitherto received little attention.

The event brought together over 90 academics, teachers, students and those working and volunteering in heritage organisations or on community projects, to share their ideas, discoveries, interests and research. Our programme of talks was complemented by displays and exhibitions from community history groups.

The speakers were:

  • Professor Karen Hunt – University of Keele: ‘The Kitchen is the Key to Victory’: Women, Food and the Great War
  • Jennifer Doyle – Kings College, University of London: Everybody’s talking about food: food and women’s magazines in the First World War
  • Dr Stella Hockenhull– University of Wolverhampton: Everybody’s Business: Film, Food and Victory in the First World War

At the end of a day there was a panel discussion and Q&A: Researching Home, Food and Family


  • Dr Janis Lomas – Independent Researcher
  • Julia Letts – Oral Historian and project co-ordinator for The Great Blackberry Pick (HLF-funded project)
  • Susanne Atkin – volunteer researcher participating in WW1 in the Vale, focussing on the experience of the 9th Earl of Coventry and his tenants on the Croome Estate, Pershore (HLF-funded project)
  • Professor Maggie Andrews -University of Worcester and Voices of War andPeace Community Engagement Centre lead on Gender and the Home Front. Academic lead on WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)
  • Chaired by Jenni Waugh – Community History consultant and project co-ordinator for WW1 in the Vale (HLF-funded project)

Community heritage exhibitions and contributions were provided by the following projects:

TWITTER & INSTAGRAM MESSAGES throughout the day and after. (I do love a good Storify).

All of the presentations were filmed by James MacDonald of Clear Picture Productions. They are so huge that I am uploading them one by one and will post their final weblinks shortly.

Celebrate! £20,000 in HLF funding secured for the WW1 in the Vale project!

We’re on our way! I’ve had to be very quiet about this one, whilst it was in development, but I am now happy to report that Pershore WI and Pershore Heritage & History Group (alias the WW1 in the Vale team) are celebrating the award of £10,000 each from the Heritage Lottery Fund First World War: Then and Now programme.

Getting started! (From left to right) Back row: Professor Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester, Susanne Atkin, volunteer researcher, Audrey Whitehouse and Beth Milsom of Pershore WI Front row: Elspeth King, University of Worcester, Audrey Humberstone, Margaret Tacey and Jean Haynes from Pershore Heritage & History Society

Getting started! (From left to right)
Back row: Professor Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester, Susanne Atkin, volunteer researcher, Audrey Whitehouse and Beth Milsom of Pershore WI
Front row: Elspeth King, University of Worcester, Audrey Humberstone, Margaret Tacey and Jean Haynes from Pershore Heritage & History Society

It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work all round since Maggie Andrews and I produced the first public consultation event back in October 2014 at the Almonry in Evesham, but this grant award means that we can now get cracking on our research and events programme to find out more about life in the Vale during World War One. 

Over the next year, each group will follow a particular theme:

Pershore WI members will celebrate the centenary of their branch, founded in November 1916 as one of the first Women’s Institutes in the county. They will uncover the lives of its original members, including Viscountess Deerhurst of Pirton, Mrs Beynon, wife of the manager of the Pomona Jam Factory, and the wives, daughters or servants of engineers, bricklayers, tradesmen and market gardeners in the area.

Pershore Heritage & History Society will be investigating ‘How the Pershore Plum Won the War’. The fruit and vegetables grown in the Vales of Evesham and Pershore were essential to the nation’s food production. Many local residents combined market gardening and fruit growing with other trades such as pub landlord or wheelwright.

The project team will be co-ordinated by Jenni Waugh Consulting Ltd (me!) and supported by Professor Maggie Andrews, students from the University of Worcester, the Voices of War and Peace World War One Engagement Centre, Pershore Library staff and Pershore Town Council,.  We will also work with artists, an oral historian and a film-maker to record our discoveries, and have a year’s worth of exciting events and activities planned.

We also plan to produce touring exhibitions, a WW1 Pershore Town Trail and films of Food Preservation Demonstrations. We will also host a number of craft activities for children in the local library and other public events.

A book based on our research, How the Pershore Plum Won the War, will be published by the History Press and available for sale in time for the Pershore Plum Festival in 2016.

For further information about World War One in the Vale or to get involved, follow the project blog or contact me directly.

More stones…

Following the fun Workshop on Newspapers and Stone, I have been commissioned to do a lovely bit of archive research for the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.


St Nicholas, The Cross, Worcester

If you come along to the Archive Searchroom in the Hive on alternate Wednesday afternoons between now and the end of the year, you will find me, up to my eyes in builders’ specifications, parish records, old copies of The Builder and any other useful source that I can get my hands on…

The main focus of Trust’s work at the moment is A Thousand Years of Building with Stone, an enormous research project that now has its own brand new, freely searchable website and a growing database of more than 3000 buildings and quarries

As part of the team, I am helping to record, catalogue and untangle the history of stone use in heritage buildings across Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  We are trying to identify not only the stone from which some of our most significant buildings are constructed, but also, the quarry it came from.  Yes!  We are nothing if not ambitious!!!

It’s great to get back into the archives again and to do some focussed research.  I have been finding some fabulous stuff – too much to post here.

My thorniest problem at the moment is to identify the stone from which the ‘new’ church of St Nicholas was built in 1730. Worcester people will know the church, as it stands on The Cross and is now a Slug & Lettuce bar.  I have fond memories of this church – when I was small they used to put a nativity tableau on the steps at Christmas time.  If you put a coin in the tin, it lit up and played a carol.  I leave it to you to work out how long ago that was…

So I am slowly working through box after box of churchwardens’ accounts, trying not to get distracted by the fascinating invoices for school materials in the 1860s, or descriptions of the workhouse prior to 1836…  If anyone has a clue, do let me know

Helping the Earth Heritage Trust to do this are a wonderful and ever expanding group of dedicated volunteers. If you are interested in learning new skills and discovering more about your local area read more or contact the EHT team.

The Workshop on Newspapers & Stone

Bit of an unusual request this one, and no, it is not the academic prequel to GRR Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire sequence.

Instead, it’s an interesting commission from the Earth Heritage Trust, whose volunteers are busy researching sources for A Thousand Years of Building with Stone.  Given the tremendous number of documentary sources out there, my workshop will focus on how to structure database searches and how to make the best use of any basic clues to lead you to the answers.

So far, one of the best clues to use are the foundation stones laid with great enthusiasm by our forebears – where there’s a stone, there’s a news article, and behind that article can be a wealth of information concerning architect, building contractors, design purpose and nature of stone used.  Take, for example, Worcester’s own City Library:

Worcester Library collage_web

Searches on INFOTRAC News Vault (available for free to Worcestershire Libraries members) for the Worcester Library opening event were no use, as it turns out that when the building was erected it was known entirely as the Victoria Institute.  Therefore, by changing the search parameters to use the known data (‘Worcester’, ‘Lygon’ and a restricted date search), I was able to find both the report of the Opening Ceremony in the Times Newspaper Archive, and a series of commemorative articles about the event in the Worcester Journal (using the British Newspaper Archive).  For the Times article, see SUCCESSFUL SEARCH_Worcs Victoria Inst 1896-10-01.

There are a large number of newspaper and periodical resources available online, some for free and others which charge a fee.  This is where library membership comes up trumps as most county services subscribe to at least one of these archives.  For details, look for your library service’s 24 Hour Library or e-Resources page.  In Worcestershire, library members who visit the Hive can also access a range of additional academic journals through the University subscriptions service including the British & Irish Archaeological Bibliography and JStor.

For a quick overview of online news & periodical resources see this guide from the National Archives: TNA_Guide to newspapers_2014-10-20

For a guide to Herefordshire Libraries e-Resources see: e-resources_Herefordshire Libraries 2014-10-20

For a guide to Worcestershire Libraries e-Resources, including those at the Hive, see: eResources_Worcs Libraries 2014-10-20 and e-resources_The Hive 2014-10-20

For an introduction to using the British Newspaper Archive, see: Intro to British Newspaper Archive