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Building Engagement: Cranbrook Museum's Learning Offer

Museum Background

Cranbrook Museum is a Grade II Listed, 15th Century, timber framed building in the heart of the Kentish Weald. The oldest part was probably used to house the bailiff of the Rectory Farm, belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury.

In the 1620s the old medieval hall was rebuilt with two new brick chimney stacks whose inglenook fireplaces can still be seen today. During the 17th century the building was in use as the Rectory and the brick facing to the north and west walls was added by Charles Buck, vicar of Cranbrook, in 1683. Evidence of the date of this transformation is recorded in the external plasterwork.

In the 19th century the building was divided into four cottages, which in 1889 were bought by a local solicitor, W T Neve. More external renovations were made and a further date was added. Later, the cottages came into the possession of Cranbrook Rural District Council and, in 1971, one cottage was made available to the Cranbrook & District Local History Society for its museum. As other cottage tenants left, the museum gradually expanded into the vacant properties. After 1995 the whole building was conserved and refurbished by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and adapted to house the much increased and expanding museum collections, displays and archives.

The museum is run entirely by volunteers.


Project Background

Following the introduction of a new Curriculum in 2014, our MDO initiated the Building Engagement strand as part of the SEMDP support.  Designed to support museums in developing their learning and outreach offer for schools, several museums took part in three sessions between Nov 2014 and Feb 2016: Working with Schools, How to Create Workshops for Schools, and Creating Outreach Sessions. 

£500 development grant and consultant support from the trainer was given to each participant.

Cranbrook Museum recruited a new volunteer Education Officer, recently retired from working as a Learning Consultant, who attended the sessions in order to develop a Learning Action Plan.


Actions Taken

Drawing together the professional guidance from the three training sessions, Cranbrook drafted a Learning Action Plan but quickly found it rather ambitious and, with more experience, realized it needed to be more measured.

Part of the grant was used to develop the following projects:

  • Broadcloth: visual material was obtained from a local artist to illustrate the story of broadcloth in an area where we have few artefacts but significant local history. The project was showcased at workshops via local town events (Apple Fair, Heritage Day) and two schools visited the museum to engage in this.
  • Toys: Two loan boxes have been created – one with replica toys for young children to be able to play with/teachers to use in a role play environment, and a second with artefacts which schools can borrow (together with the replica box) to share with children and/or to create their own class museum. Two schools have borrowed these so far.
  • ‘Vignettes’ are being developed to share with students based on different aspects of the history of the town, (and in different rooms at the museum) in response to schools who request a general local history experience. These then work as part of a carousel for a whole class which can be split into groups to make the numbers manageable.


Lessons Learned

None of the 14 schools responded to general emails which were sent out. The engagement is being built slowly by word of mouth and being an active presence in the community.

However many great ideas and projects are generated, it is best to have a flexible approach as (most) schools have an idea of what they want when they approach the museum and we need to be responsive.

That said, it is vital to have a focus. Projects founder if students don’t know what they are supposed to be doing/ finding out. We now always insist on establishing a plan with the teacher prior to the visit.

Teachers are very busy people!  However, where possible, it is best to meet with them face to face to plan the visit. 


Next Steps

As schools and groups are getting to know the museum and staff and make requests, workshops/outreach/loan facilities will be developed further in line with schools' requirements. A new project based on the WW1Peacefields has recently been requested for instance, resulting from a direct link made through a contact.

Engagement is starting to go beyond schools to older people with a reminiscence session requested. Again, direct contact.

Our website is being developed further in light of experience gained, and the museum's social media profile and greater community publicity is yielding new contacts.

Greater sustainability! The museum's learning offer may only be in its infancy but recruitment of more volunteers to assist with the programme is now necessary.  This will ensure that achievements so far can be continued and developed e.g. scripts for our Vignettes have been produced allowing other volunteers to deliver them.