As part of the ongoing work of the Torbay Arts in Schools Network, we are featuring a series of ‘Spotlight Interviews’ with key TASN partners. The first of these is with Angela Lafferty, who serves as the Engagement Development Officer at Torquay Museum.
Question: Tell me a little bit about your role and what you do.
I came to Torquay Museum to fill the role of a Freelance Education Officer four years ago this month. It was a dream job for me; coming from an Early Years/education background to be able to work with children in this inspiring and exciting venue.
When we lost our mentor, and Education Lead, to redundancy; the future of the school workshop education programme looked uncertain, as the museum could no longer afford to fund it. It was then I approached the Museum Director with a plan; that if we could run the workshops at no cost to the museum (bearing in mind TQM is a charity), I would take over the administration in freelance capacity, and our amazing team could continue to deliver education workshops to visiting school groups.
Since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength.
Just over a year ago, I also took on the permanent (part-time) role of Engagement Development Officer, in which I work on a number of fronts to engage with the public, other venues, community engagement, events, exhibitions, and so much more. I love my jobs; I feel very privileged to work in both roles here at the museum, and I love to see the museum full of happy groups of children and families.
Question 2: What’s something really exciting/successful that’s happened at the museum in the last 6 months?
Our post-Covid school visits have seen such a significant increase, that we ran out of available days on which we could offer workshops. Then came the second (inspired) part of our plan – as we always have at least two Education Team members for our larger workshops, I realised that we would have sufficient staff numbers on site to offer schools the opportunity to visit us on days when we are closed to the public. (Winter hours – Mondays and Fridays). This provided a really exciting chance for students and teachers to access the workshops, have the whole museum to themselves, and not have the additional worry of a school trip in a public space – it really does help everyone relax and offers the children a unique experience. It also allows us to accommodate much larger school groups, as we can use the whole museum – 95 children in one trip is our record so far (nicknamed Egypt-a-gedon by the team!) – it was a lot of fun.
Question 3: Why are schools relationships important to you? How do the schools get involved?
Torquay Museum’s galleries and collections provide a fantastic learning environment and can help children to explore, and discover, so many topics from History, Geology and Science through to numeracy, literacy, drama, music, and art. I feel really strongly about children actively engaging with the museum’s workshops; it’s a day that offers them a hands-on, practical, visual, interactive experience that enables them to go back to school and expand and build on what they have learned – it’s a memory that stays with them. Exploring museums gives children the ability to engage actively in the process of acquiring knowledge.
Just before Christmas, I was very honoured to be invited in to visit Yr 5 Cockington Primary’s Mini Museum project – this was a project the children had created, and curated, themselves following a full day Egyptian workshop with us in early November. I was amazed by what they had achieved in just one half term; the subject knowledge, detail, and enthusiasm shared by the children, all built from their visit to the museum – three classrooms filled with Scarabs, pyramids, hand-made papyrus, Hieroglyphs, ‘sandstone’ blocks – so many beautiful and impressive activities.
We regularly send out education newsletters to school admins with all our workshop information, however if you haven’t received one, you can find all of the information on the lovely, new Torquay Museum website, under Learning or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Question 4: Can you describe some ways that families with children & young people engage with the museum?
We always aim to provide a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere with fun activities, exhibitions and events throughout the year, interactive gallery spaces, spacious baby-changing areas, and a child-friendly cafe. There are explorer helmets and backpacks available to borrow from the museum gift shop, for our younger visitors, full of things inside to help you discover the Museum. Sensory backpacks are also available for families with children with additional needs to support your visit. We have family-friendly trails for older children, that we regularly change, and a recently installed colouring station just outside the café, too. Children and families will find plenty of hands-on exhibits throughout the Museum and in-gallery activities to keep visitors of all ages learning and exploring.
Our most successful recent family event was our family Valentine Rave, held in February and run in association with the award-winning family rave crew, Big Fish Little Fish. We had headlining DJs playing (grown-up) dance music on the multi-sensory dancefloor, with glitter cannons, bubbles, snow, balloons and giant parachute dance. There was also craft tables and giant colouring mural, themed crafts and playdoh table. Play area with tents and tunnels, with a film showing in our Explorers Gallery, and baby chillout space with mats and small ball pool in our Local Studies Library. The café and licensed bar were open for the day too. We sold over 500 tickets, it was such an amazing day – the best part for me was seeing just as many families exploring the galleries as there were taking part in the other activities – the museum was abuzz; it was fabulous!
The year ahead promises so much more fun too with our upcoming exhibitions and related events – May The Toys Be With You (Star Wars Toys exhibition) will be accompanied by Sabre Combat Experience sessions, Lego Saturday with Community Builder Joey Damiral, Stop Motion Animation Workshop with Emberlense’s John Tomkins…. And that’s just the next few weeks. We also have Six-Legged Superheros: Insects Saving the Planet (3 June – 7 October), Hollywood Rome: Reel Life in the Ancient World (8 July – 23 September), and the super exciting British Museum Touring Exhibition Egyptian Hieroglyphs: unlock the mystery (21 October – 18 February).
Question 5: Going forward, what are your hopes and dreams for the museum in terms of engagement?
I suppose, simply, just a more regular diary of events that families grow to depend on. I would love their first thought, on any given weekend or school holiday, to be ‘Let’s we see what’s on at the museum?’
Stay up to date with Torquay Museum and their amazing work here:
Torquay Museum is a partner and founding member of TASN.
Torbay Arts in Schools Network (TASN) is a collaborative and grassroots effort, comprised of 45 organisations, freelancers, and schools in the Torbay area.
The network serves as Torbay’s Cultural Education Partnership, providing shared regional advocacy, arts menus, creative resources, and arts outreach in partnership with area schools. What is a Local Cultural Education Partnership? Find out more here.
The group is action-driven, and meets fortnightly over Zoom to do shared activity planning. The network is currently chaired and coordinated by Erin Walcon, Co-Director, Doorstep Arts.
The network is open-door and new artists, arts orgs or school staff are always welcome to join –just email email@example.com to sign up to the mailing list.