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Edward Bulwer Lytton - Knebworth House – Current Education Programs

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Edward Bulwer Lytton - Knebworth House – Current Education Programs

Henry Cobbold: Well, I've noticed a bit of a pattern... and that is that some homes and museums do well on advanced learning and are keen to do better for children, and others do well on the early Key Stages and are keen to do better for elder students. Well, we're one of the latter - we're well developed with programs for younger children, and Lynn's going to speak about that before I talk a bit about what we do, and hope to do, for elder students.

Lynn Forrest (Education Officer):

The education programme began here in 1996 with…

  • the very popular Tudor Treasure Trail, which is still running. We can take a whole year group, about 200 children. Groups are taken to key rooms in the house, led by our experienced guides in costume. There is a simple activity in each room, for example in the library writing with a quill pen. They then break for lunch and go and visit the Dinosaur Trail, which I'll talk about later. And in the afternoon they investigate the gardens with the aim of putting together the items that would make a Tudor banquet.

  • We have a similar format for a Victorian Trial, again guides in costume lead groups around the house, this time on a Victorian theme, and again using the garden in the afternoon.

  • New for this year is the Dinosaur Trail – 72 life size models set in the “wilderness” gardens. They have proved to be very popular with schools and general visitors. My first job was to put together an educational interpretation of this trail. The only National Curriculum links I could find were teething, eating and the food chain - when I first saw the dinosaurs, to my horror, they were practically toothless! So we quickly had some models put together of a herbivore and a carnivore tooth. So far, the Dinosaur Trail has tended to be a lunch hour activity, but there is scope to use it for formal teaching. I have produced worksheets to use with the trail for Key Stage 1 & 2.

  • We got the Sandford Award here in 2001 - for our Tudor Trail - and we are looking to re-apply for 2006 and so I am looking all the key recommendations - one of which is Outreach. So we're almost complete on a Victorian Workshop to be taken into schools. Using photos of key family members, archive material – servant’s records etc. - and handling objects (which I'm having to buy because we have very few "handling" objects here), these will be led by a costumed guide dressed as a parlour maid working at Knebworth during the Victorian period. Hopefully, again, this will attract Key Stage 3 as well – as people have said it is more difficult to attract Key Stage 3 out, so Outreach is a thing they should be more receptive to. And again it's taking the house into schools... by way of four activities which I have centred around four key rooms here - so the guides follow the pattern of what they would do in the house.

  • Also for Outreach, we too are working on a Loans Box, again using photographs, family records and objects. It can be used by anyone - I feel it doesn't have to be just for schools. I have included a short story that I've written using the memoirs of Bulwer Lytton's grandson, Victor, about being a child growing up at Knebworth in the 1880s.

  • I've almost completed a "News" leaflet to go out to schools to let them know what we are doing.

  • For the future, we're looking at evaluation – I've always thought it is really important to get feedback on what you are doing. It's all well and good coming up with these ideas, but you've got to know that they work. So in future all teachers will be given a simple evaluation sheet to complete. We will look at the information, process it, and hopefully work from that to offer teachers and educators what they are looking for.

Henry Cobbold (Director):
As you can hear, that's very nicely developed - our History teaching for younger students - but why I am so thrilled about this group and some of the ideas that are coming up today, is that I really want to push the Literature angle for the elder students. We are under developed in this area and I am very keen to hear the ideas that are being offered today.
I'm going to add two suggestions, two things that have worked well for us:
Firstly, anniversaries. Anniversaries are extremely useful and they are very easy to come by. You can find an anniversary in almost any year -
Patrick Wildgust: Today is Laurence Sterne's 291st birthday.
Henry Cobbold: - there you go! All of the writers we represent had a book that came out, or something that happened, that produces a nice round number in the next year. I've found it very useful to work with anniversaries - it helps give a fresh direction for your marketing year on year.
Secondly, the other wonderful thing I've discovered - having started a newsletter for Bulwer Lytton scholars and enthusiasts around the world - is that in almost every university in almost every corner of the world (and they all wonderfully came out of the woodwork for our birthday Bicentenary last year) there is somebody who adores Bulwer Lytton. And you will all find, in universities around the world, there is sure to be somebody who absolutely adores your writer and his or her work. By creating this little email network, whereby I send out an email every once in a while - just basically any news related to Bulwer Lytton, articles written about him, books planned - it's extraordinary the feedback that comes back.
And I want to give you one particular example that I am so very thrilled about. The University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, has a wonderful theatre professor called Barry Yzereef who is a Bulwer fanatic – and every three years he brings his Drama and Theatre Studies students from Canada to Knebworth to put on a play in the Banqueting Hall, which is what Bulwer Lytton used to do with his mates Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins back in the 1850s. And for these Canadian students, it is a life-changing event for many of them, to come and act in a room that Charles Dickens acted in, and to perform plays of which they can read reviews from when they were performed in the same room on cold winter evenings in 1850. This has been a wonderful program, and we've managed to settle it into a regular 3-yearly event. We're helped by the fact that our preservation charity (The Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust) has "education" in its title, so it can contribute to staging the event - but I hastened to add that the Canadian students do a year of fund raising prior to the event and they do pay their own way. We give them an evening meal, provide a stage, and publicise the event, but the costs of the play, their travel and lodgings are all paid for by them.
So I would encourage you, if you're not doing it already, to reach out to those academics in far-flung universities and see if there isn't a way of coming up with a similar sort of arrangement, a similar sort of a program. The sight of 25 Canadian students all in their stage make-up walking down Old Knebworth Lane to the Roebuck Inn in Stevenage on a summer's evening is something that I absolutely cherish. And it really is an example of how Bulwer Lytton is still today reaching out - almost as far as British Columbia!

The Brontes – The Bronte Parsonage – Current Education Programs.
Andrew McCarthy (Audience Development Manager):
The Bronte Society was established in 1893 and the Bronte Parsonage Museum was opened in 1928, having been the home of the family from 1820 to 1861 and of course where all those great novels were written.
Despite the fact that the Bronte Society was established as an educational charity - to promote understanding and awareness of the Brontes, their lives and works - it's only relatively recently that an education programme as such has been established, and only relatively recently that a member of staff dedicated to educational development has been appointed.
My role at the museum now is Audience Development Manager. I'm very involved in Education of course - I did actually begin my employment with the Society in 1999 as the Education Officer. So I spent a great deal of time during the first four years or so working on developing the education service, which would of course cater to schools, but which would also look towards pre-school, pre-school age… and of course initiatives as well for older students and adult learners as well.
Of course featuring prominently in museums' education always are schools, and so one of my first priorities was to look at a program for activities specifically for schools. First of all to enhance the experience of children visiting the museum and to provide a curriculum resource for teachers, but also really to look towards enhancing the income generating capacity of education as well.
The Education Service Leaflet here gives details of the workshops and activities that came out of that process. The cover depicts - a rather too cheerful and healthy-looking - Helen Burns, for those of you who know Jane Eyre, from a drama workshop. It folds out into a poster that gives all the details. Activities include:

  • Preschool art and crafts workshops

  • Artefact handling workshops

  • Drama workshops - that include costume interpretation as well

  • Creative writing workshops

  • Art based workshops

  • Talks and guided walks around Haworth for 6th Form students

  • And also something called the Bronte Roadshow, which is basically an Outreach service where workshop sessions are taken out into schools that can't actually get to Haworth.

So there's quite a variety here in this program. And all these workshops were designed as cross-curricular resources really. They were also designed very much with an eye on not just introducing children to the Brontes, their life and work, but also in trying to get children to respond to the Brontes by being creative themselves. That's a very important part of the Education service that has developed over time, that we are really trying to promote imagination and creativity now.
As well as this formal program of workshops and activities, there have also been informal tutorings and workshops as well, which include things that have already been mentioned - story telling sessions, holiday craft workshops, children’s trails and that sort of thing.
In addition to this day-to-day menu of options, if you like, for school groups, I've also worked in the last few years on a number of special education projects at the Parsonage. I should give, very briefly, a bit of background information by stating that the Bronte Parsonage is located within the Bradford authority and Bradford is a city that has some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and also of course it's made up of a number of very culturally diverse communities - and it has to be said, under represented in our visitor profile are children, schools, from socially deprived neighbourhoods and, for example, predominantly non-white catchments. And so a series of these have been devised really to try and encourage those groups into the museum. They are all projects that have been externally funded, from a variety of sources including the DFES, the Yorkshire Museums and Archives Council, and various charitable foundations like the Paul Hamlin Foundation and the Foyle Foundation. And they have included a variety of things, but again very much Arts based, so there would be Artist in Residence programs, there have been craft residencies, theatre and museums projects, and forthcoming, a project working with a group of Bradford schools who will be working with professional actors and musicians to develop an opera based on the Brontes' lives. That will be performed in Haworth and the communities where the schools are.
And so those special projects have been audience development initiatives really, as opposed to catering simply for schools that come to the museum anyway.
As well as working with very young children and school groups, the Parsonage has also developed Adult learning initiatives of one kind or another – particularly an annual program of courses and special events. The courses that we run have been developed really as collaborative initiatives with other educational institutions, like for example Leeds and Bradford Universities. And they’ve included, well, obviously Literature-based courses, accredited courses, but also courses focusing on local history, and again on the Arts - so for example we’ve run creative writing workshops with Bradford University as well as a whole host of day and weekend courses on different aspects of not just creative writing, but the visual arts more generally. And there are also:

  • Lectures and talks,

  • PAL (Peer Assisted Learning) discussion type events

  • Collaborative projects with other museums

  • Theatrical productions

  • Bronte related movie screenings – one of the things we are hoping to do next year is screen the 1939 Wuthering Heights on the moors, which is adventurous!

  • Exhibitions and all kinds of other events as well.

Now all of this activity – the work with schools, the work with the special education projects with under represented groups, the Adult Education initiatives - all of this has proved to be very popular and there has actually been a four-fold increase in the children, students, and adults, using the museum’s education service in the last 5 years. And of course when this service began the main objective was to produce a high quality service which would enhance the visitor experience of visiting the museum, provide a curriculum resource and all those crucial things. But one of the spin offs, if you like, has been that Education has managed to establish itself on a very firm financial footing, not just through workshop fees but by attracting grants and funding of various sorts.
The other crucial thing to say, though, is that, as I mentioned, much of the schools activities have had an Arts bias, as too have the Special Education projects and indeed the Adult Education initiatives. And really, since we’re thinking about the role of Education in Literary museums, we at the Parsonage are very committed to the idea that we are not just about exploring the Brontes, their lives and works, although of course that an absolutely very crucial part of what we are doing. Our objective is also to be advocates for imagination and creativity now, and to encourage children, students and adults to respond to the Brontes, the Bronte Parsonage and Museum, in imaginative and creative ways.

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