Our Happy Museum project is concerned with trialling and evaluating different object handling methods and looking at how we can create more meaningful conversations with our visitors around them.

During a rather cold and snowy February we trialled our six object handling models. They consisted of group work, quirky experiments and tweaked versions of regular object handling. The latter is delivered daily in different forms; from sessions for educational groups to ‘drop in’ Timestacks. These are industrial retrieval machines in the Main Exhibition Space – you push a button and the selected themed tray of objects is brought down for you to view. We open them daily so that visitors can handle artefacts, hear the stories behind the objects, ask questions and share their own experiences.

The first two sessions were with our groups. Firstly with members of Veterans North, who informally talked about their own objects and shared their personal experiences with small groups of primary school children and their teachers. For the second, we held an art session with a group from Start* led by artist Claire Hignett. The participants used artefacts from the handling collection in order to create several artworks in different mediums.

*Start is a creative arts and wellbeing centre that promotes emotional wellbeing and recovery by providing creative arts-based activities and training opportunities for people who are, or may be at risk of experiencing mental health difficulties or social exclusion.

Both sessions went very well and received positive feedback from participants and visitors. The Start group said many times how privileged they felt to hold artefacts from the handling collection, whilst the veterans group said how nice it was not to be ‘a talking head’ in front of a room of children and instead have a conversation. They felt an informal approach enabled the children to feel more comfortable and felt able to ask them questions. The school sent an email the next day thanking us for their enjoyable visit and in particular being able to speak with veterans had been their highlight.

Helen Grice, Interactor