Sheffield's National Emergency Services Museum aims to spark a lifelong love of history
How do you make the past relevant to the present and important in the future?
That’s a question every heritage organisation must address if it is to remain part of the cultural conversation both locally and nationally.
The National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) in Sheffield is no exception. The museum is constantly developing its overall offer to introduce new and exciting ways to bring stories of the emergency services to life.
Key to this approach is the development of educational workshops, events and exhibitions that can engage even the youngest visitors and spark a passion for history that will last a lifetime.
This week the museum took part in the national celebration Children’s Art Week. A ‘mini curators’ event allowed youngsters to get hands-on with items from the museum’s vast collection before creating their own piece of artwork inspired by the objects they had explored.
Pre-school children also had fun with emergency services-themed crafts, with both groups contributing to a larger piece of artwork that will be displayed in the museum’s brand new learning and discovery suite.
The events were organised by the museum’s learning and discovery team, Rosie Norrell and Paul Watson.
The pair, both former mainstream teachers, joined NESM at the start of this year to support the expansion of its schools programme as well as the tailored educational workshops it provides to further and higher education students, adults involved in lifelong learning and other community groups and organisations.
Rosie and Paul currently deliver a variety of in-house workshops for pre-school and key stage 1 and 2 pupils, specifically designed to complement aspects of the school curriculum and support in-classroom learning.
Delivered within the 1900 police, fire and ambulance station that is the museum’s home, these sessions are designed to engage youngsters in key aspects of local and national history as well as educate them about the role of the modern emergency services.
Topics covered include World War Two and the Sheffield Blitz, the Great Fire of London, extreme vehicles, crime and punishment and people who help us.
Further workshops on the role of the RNLI and ‘guts and gore’ will be launched later in the year. The duo are also working hard to widen the offer available to local schools, with plans afoot to launch activities aimed at key stage 3 and 4 – secondary school pupils – later this year.
As well as welcoming more than 4,000 pupils to workshops at the museum each year, Paul and Rosie also offer outreach sessions within schools.
Bringing with them items from the museum’s collection, which often includes one of its fleet of historic and vintage vehicles, they can deliver a similar range of education sessions to pupils locally.
oan boxes can also be borrowed from the museum to support teachers in delivering their own workshops or to follow up on learning from previous visits.
Rosie said: “We’re working hard to expand our offer to more key stage groups and to increase the range of workshops we deliver but we can also provide tailored, bespoke sessions if schools or other community groups need something a little different.
“The main thing for us is that we provide something that is meaningful, engaging and fun for children whatever their age.”
It’s a philosophy that’s evident in the museum’s event and exhibition design too. Special events throughout the year, such as the upcoming ‘summer of crafts and living history’, provide further opportunities for hands-on sessions with objects and vehicles that give young visitors the chance to engage with heritage in a different way.
Similarly, its most recent exhibition Blood, Bandages and Blue Lights, exploring the history of the ambulance service, was designed to showcase interactive and hands-on experiences such as videos, touchscreens and uniforms that can be tried on.
The approach appears to be working, as curator Holly Roberts explains. “We want our museum to offer something to all our visitors, of any age, but we’re conscious that children have a completely different relationship with heritage, our exhibits and our collection.
“Looking at the positive feedback we get from visitors, so many people with pre-school children tell us that their little ones have happily spent two or three hours with us when they usually get bored much sooner. So we know we’re doing something right!”
The National Emergency Services Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. with last entry an hour before closing. More details of this and of its educational workshops can be found at www.emergencymuseum.org.uk.