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Wellbeing and the Museum: Youth Theatre at the Horniman

Our Community Engagement team work with a variety of local groups to help them get the most our of our collections. Here, Rachel gives us a look at a project started this year with Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre.

Here at the Horniman, the Learning Team frequently see the positive effects engaging with the museum can have on people’s wellbeing. Our collections and programmes provide great opportunities for people to connect with others, to learn and be inspired and to have time to reflect on the beauty and complexity of the world we live in.

Last year, we met with Jeremy and Emily from GLYPT and they told us about their brilliant project ‘Whatever Makes you Happy’. This project seeks to increase good mental health and wellbeing in young people. We formed a partnership with GLYPT with the aim to work together on this and use the museum resources in a way that would greatly add to the ‘Whatever’ programme.

Together we now run a weekly drama class for 11-14 year olds where the participants have after-hours access to the museum and can use the galleries and handling collection to inspire their work.

Last term ended with a truly brilliant promenade piece performed for parents, carers and friends and we look forward to a great Summer Term ahead.

The Horniman also supports participants in its Youth Programme to take part in GLYPT as Peer Mentors. Here Heidi tells us more about what the role involves:

I have been helping teach drama to kids aged 11- 14. The session starts off with safe space where we do something creative, this helps them focus. After this, we start doing the drama. The kids used the museum’s objects to create characters for their play. We wanted them to explore their own characters and scenarios as much as possible.

I’m a Peer Mentor. I join in all of the activities with the kids, and I’m a role model to them. It’s nice to have younger people as well as the adults in the group, some kids find it easier to relate.

I was doing a Youth Work Placement at the museum and my supervisor Beth told me about it so I got involved. I am very interested in theatre, so it was great to be around people who were too.

We let the kids be themselves. It was wonderful to see them change every week, they have all grown more confident.

The final event was great, everyone got up and said their lines. Some of them were so shy when they first started - so this was really amazing!

Ethnomusicality with SELAN

Last year, South East London Arts Network (SELAN) member Phil Baird completed one of our community worker training days with fellow artist Carlo Keshishian. As a result, they devised a project for other SELAN members to take part in.

Here they report on the project and what it was like for the group working closely with the Horniman and our collections.


I enjoyed co-facilitating art and music workshops at the wondrous Horniman Museum, upon being summoned by fellow artist and friend Phil Baird.

Initially we had imagined basing the sessions at the Horniman's aquarium due to Phil and I's shared interest in the mysteries of ocean life and deep sea creatures. By the time our workshops came to fruition, however, it had all metamorphosed into another area we are both very much in tune with (pardon the pun), music and improvisation.


We entered the hands on base and quickly got the idea to set a rhythm going and made an amazing piece of improvised piece of music. One participant discovered an amazing gift for solo didgeridoo.

We began working with small pieces of paper and ink pens to draw the rhythms of different instruments such as the Irish Bodhran or African Djembe drum. Everyone created a way of capturing the sound on paper.

Carlo took on a Dr/Shaman role giving individual music treatments literal and metaphorical, each person laying down a track towards a group soundscape recording.

Everyone enjoyed these workshops so much, Phil managed to secure funding from Drake Music Connect and Collaborate to take the project further.  The group recorded the sounds of instruments in the handling collection to create a composition, and then created an animation to go with it.

The brilliant end result is entitled 'Ethnomusicality':

Thanks to everyone at SELAN – you are always a pleasure to work with!

Our Community Fieldworkers Explore Anthropology and Exhibit their Art

Nicola, Skills for the Future trainee at the Horniman, reports on the art exhibition held to exhibit the work from the Community Fieldworkers project.

The Community Fieldworkers project took 34 South Londoners on an adventure in Anthropology. Over 7 weeks they were sent 18 postcards, each on with a different object from the Anthropology Collection on it. They were asked to ‘Make, Investigate or Tell a Story’ around one or all of the objects.

In February their fantastic and varied responses were showcased at the Community Fieldworkers Exhibition.

  • Community Fieldworkers Exhibtion, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

The public joined friends and family of the Community Fieldworkers in the Gardens’ Pavilion to see the exhibition, which included sculptures, collage, conceptual artworks and photography.

  • Community Fieldworkers art work, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

They were also treated to a live performance by Community Fieldworker Rupert whose spoken word reading of his poetry anthology 'An Anthropology of 18 objects – A Field Guide' wowed the crowd.

  • Rupert performs his poetry anthology at the Community Fieldworkers exhibition, Photo by Beth Atkinson
    , Photo by Beth Atkinson

South East London Artists Network’s animation was also on display. It revealed how they had created their artworks based on the four postcards they had chosen – including postcard No.2.

The Marshall Islands navigation chart that appeared on postcard No.2 was the most popular object inspired a diverse range of responses.

One was Paulette’s ‘people clock’, which explored how her bike ride to school with her daughter was timed using the people they saw on the route.

  • Paulette shows off her Community Fieldworkers project, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

Other interpretations included Neville’s impressive navigation chart of London that showed the journey to museums around the capital and Sarah’s beautiful representation of the object.

  • Neville's own navigation chart showing London museums, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

  • Sarah and her interpretation of the Marshall islands chart, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

It was a fantastic day that brought the Community Fieldworkers together to talk about their ideas and show how they had explored the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ collection in a creative way.

  • The Horniman Community Fieldworkers, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

You can see more photographs from the Community Fieldworkers exhibition on Flickr.

Danny Boyle at the Horniman

We were very pleased to welcome Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle to the Horniman yesterday evening.

Danny and his crew filmed a pilot for a Channel 4 show Babylon in the local area last November. To thank SE23 residents, he and his team offered to hold a Q&A talk which we were delighted to host.

Questions from the audience ranged from his favourite films, his proudest moment, the show filmed here in Forest Hill and, of course, the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Danny entertained and enthralled the audience with tales from his award winning film and stage career and charmed us all.

A Visit from the Stroke Association

The Stroke Association's Communication Support Coordinator Rachel Morrison reports on a recent group visit to the Horniman.

Every year over 450 people have a stroke in Lewisham. The Stroke Association believes in Life After Stroke and runs services in Lewisham to support stroke survivors and their families. I run the Communication Support Service, which enables stroke survivors to attend weekly support groups. Survivors meet regularly and, together with trained volunteers, develop and practice communication skills and build their confidence. The group is a lifeline for many stroke survivors, and helps them to work towards their own personal goals and achievements.

We decided to go to the Horniman Museum recently instead of our usual group. It was a really fun day out, we were lucky that the sun was shining so were able to sit outside on the lawn for some coffee and cakes!  The museum is really easy to navigate and the exhibits are so varied that there was something for everyone. One group member said the aquarium had brought back memories of when she went scuba diving and others had enjoyed reminicing about musical instruments they used to play whilst looking around the music exhibit.

  • Music Gallery 2, Photo by Peter Cook
    , Photo by Peter Cook

We were able to take lots of photos so it should be fun looking back on them at the next group and having a good discussion. Quite a few people were inspired to visit the museum again, with one group member saying she had lived in Lewisham all her life and couldn’t believe she had never been to the Horniman before, she is hoping to go along with her family soon!

Group member Anne Jones also sent us her thoughts on the visit.

I hadn’t visited the Horniman Museum since my grandchildren were small, but I really enjoyed my visit. I liked seeing the fish in the aquarium, they looked wonderful, and we particularly liked watching the jellyfish opening in and out.

  • Aquarium - Jellyfish, Photo by Ludo Des Cognets
    , Photo by Ludo Des Cognets

The models of the man and woman in the African Worlds exhibition looked beautiful and really life like. I thought the models of the stuffed animals looked good but I wasn’t too keen on the models of the insects, I didn’t like them at all!

I didn’t get chance to see the clock this time but I would like to visit again and explore some more as there was so much to see.

At the end of our visit we sat outside the café in the sun and enjoyed a nice coffee while we planned our next visit to the museum. I enjoyed my visit and I’m planning to go again soon, next time I’ll be heading to the music exhibition!  

A Visit from New Hope International

As part of the Collections People Stories project, we've been working with community groups, both to give them access to our collections, and get their help to learn more about our objects. Project Coordinator Johanna has updated us on how one visit went.

On Saturday 8 June we were visited by New Hope International, a group who have spent the last few months exploring Congolese heritage in collaboration with UCL and the Royal Geographical Society. They have been looking at archives and collections relating to Congolese history and were particularly interested in objects collected at the turn of the 20th Century.

We began with a tour of the African Worlds Gallery and were interested in hearing from them what they thought about the gallery and the presentation of objects from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Mr Noel Mbala told us about a river near where he grew up in the DRC called the ‘nkisi river’. Nkisi are powerful objects that bind people to agreements and can cause havoc if these are broken. The river got its name at a time when nkisi were thrown into it by missionaries and local Christians who considered them to be associated with the devil.

My favourite part of the day was when we visited our stores and looked at some of our objects that are not on display. The group commented on how different the experience of being able to touch and smell objects was to seeing them in a glass case.

We get to work closely with objects in this way all the time, and so it was wonderful to be able to share this with new people.

Watch the video below to see footage from the group's visit.

Horniman Inspiration - Jessica Light

Jessica Light is one of the last working trimming weavers left in England. Here she tells us all about how the Horniman has inspired her work.

I'm a frequent Horniman visitor (it's one of my favourite museums) and I always come away inspired, whether it's from one of the exhibitions or the static galleries. I'm inspired in so many ways: designs, colours, materials, even processes and techniques, as well as the more esoteric, abstract and surreal qualities of the exhibits. 

  • Mask from African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

I've always been fascinated by tribal and indigenous art and it is a constant theme that runs through a lot of my work, but I like to mix up my references as I think it produces something different and I don't like to be too literal.

The Horniman was a particularly important source for my Bexley Collection, which is an amalgamation of Art Deco motifs and time spent in African Worlds. I was in this instance especially inspired by the masks and graphic patterns: the tag-line for the range was '30s mock-Tudor meets African witch doctor'. The pale mint, sage, peach and coral are pure Deco colours, whereas the use of paper and raffia gave the products a tribal element.

I think so many people now just Google for their references, but I think there is no substitute for actually seeing and connecting with things first hand as you may be inspired by the whole object or a tiny detail triggers an idea. It gives you a physical and a creative relationship with what you are seeing that can be translated into your own work.

  • Masks on display in African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

Visit Jessica’s website to read more about her work and explore her other collections.

Food & Feasting Across the Generations

Back in April we held an intergenerational event exploring one of our Collections People Stories themes, Food and Feasting, in partnership with The Children’s Society Greenwich Intergenerational and Community Cohesion Project.

We have been working in partnership with this excellent project for a number of years, and wanted to host an event to raise its profile, while doing some intergenerational work on the theme of food and feasting.

Before the event we had a fun session at the museum to explore the theme. We looked at food-related objects and had some good discussions. We then sat down together to eat a hot lunch and carry on food-based conversations.

The event day was on 3 April and went down really well! Visitors enjoyed being encouraged by participants and artist Caitlin Howell to add to a huge rangoli made from spices, lentil and vegetables. It was great to see Steph, Nasra and Leoni chatting with members of the public.

  • Food and Feasting Across the Generations, Starting to make the rangoli
    Starting to make the rangoli

Watch the time-lapse film Caitlin made of the Rangoli:

Other members of the project cooked food for visitors to try.

  • Food and Feasting Across the Generations, Tasting Tamarind
    Tasting Tamarind
  • Food and Feasting Across the Generations, Tasting table
    Tasting table

Monturayo made pap, fried yam, tamarind and delicious bean fritters. Georgina and Dorreen ran an object handling table (and persuaded people to try some bitter kola nut!). Muriel, Elle and Laura taught families how to make non-cook sweets.

A huge thanks to everyone from the Intergenerational Project for all their hard work.

Lewisham Young Carers Visit

The Lewisham Young Carers service is based just down the road from the museum in Forest Hill. They support young people who live in a family where someone is affected by a long-term illness or disability.

Over Easter holiday we had the 8-11 year olds and 12-16 year olds groups visit for workshops at the Museum.

As an introduction to the museum, members of the group selected an object from the Handling Collection that they felt represented themselves and then wrote a label for it. This activity is always a lovely way to find out things about each other and for individuals to think about what the things they are important to them.

On the final two days, we looked at some charms from the Lovett Collection.  The Horniman has hundred of Lovett charms from all around the world, and they are a great way of exploring our upcoming Collections People Stories theme, Health and Healing.

Using magnifying glasses we looked closely at the charms and tried to figure out what was on them and helped each other figure out what some things might mean.

This Greek silver amulet case doesn’t have much information about it but as a group we decided the figure must be St George. If you open it up, there is a dried plant – perhaps a herb or a remedy?

Scott selected one to look at that was a small horse-shoe charm with 1917 written on the back, and the word LOOS on the front. Victor got into looking at a blue glass ‘evil-eye’ charm and the small bubbles formed inside the glass when it was made. Chantelle selected a tiny charm with the number 13 on it – which she considers lucky.

We had some brilliant conversations about the charms – can you make your own luck? Do wishes come true? Should you be scared to break a lucky ritual that you have always done? What does religion have to do with luck? How can something become lucky? Which way up should you put a horse-shoe and why?

As a group we also discussed our own lucky charms that we carry around. Click on the images below to see some up close.

  • Lewisham Young Carers Visit, Scott's Charms
    Scott's Charms
  • Lewisham Young Carers Visit, Naomi's charm
    Naomi's charm
  • Lewisham Young Carers Visit, Qianna's charm
    Qianna's charm
  • Lewisham Young Carers Visit, Chantelle's charms
    Chantelle's charms

Thanks to all the young carers for making this a fantastic and fascinating event!

A Visit from the Woodcraft Folk

Earlier this month, Bromley Woodcraft Folk Elfins group visited the Horniman.

Their leader, Tracy, had recently taken part in our Community Training, and used what she'd learnt to plan a series of themed visits for her group. To start, she planned a session that included looking at the Benin Bronzes in the Hands on Base, exploring the Discovery Boxes in family groups, and doing some art and craft activities.

From our point of view it was a wonderful session - we had 28 souls on site from Bromley and Greenwich, Lewisham Folk. We had children as young as 1 and up to 11 years old.

The families really participated in the session and it was lovely to see parents working with their children. The children were very responsive and joined in really quickly which I think had a lot to do with the environment.

I am glad I attended the training as having been in the position of the participants helped me relate to their learning and it made me feel much more confident about the session.

- Tracy

Some of the group members also shared their thoughts on the visit.

You should really go to the Horniman Museum, and I mean it!!! With this museum you’ll never get bored.
When we went to the Horniman Museum we made some plaques, we touched some weird bits and bobs and we went outside and saw animals, music things and lots of different kinds of plants and we didn’t even explore half of the museum! So you see, you really should go to the Horniman Museum to see all its incredible features.

- Ben

We were led into quite a big room for something called Hands on Base. We sat on the floor on the carpet and the adults on chairs. A very friendly person called Rachel told us that she worked at the museum and was in charge of our session. She was very helpful and told us what a plaque was, for later we were doing a clay family inspired plaque. Also, she said that the Hands on Base is special because it is one of the few rooms where you can touch and hold things. This got me quite excited! We were allowed to look around and take things out of their boxes, which was also fun because there were loads of weird masks and puppets.
Then we the left the Hands on Base for a walk around the Horniman gardens for inspiration on our family inspired plaques. We all got a little bit carried away with the incredible musical instruments! Afterwards we all met inside again to start making our clay models. They all looked unbelievable!
Finally, we finished off with a little juice and biscuits. It was my best trip to the Horniman Museum, EVER!”

- Hanifah

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