[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 51 items

Harassed parent to museum student: my volunteering journey with the Horniman

Engage Volunteer, lawyer, mother, and now MA student, Gemma tells us about how volunteering with the Horniman has taken her back to university.

Ever since we moved into the area, about 10 years ago now, I’ve always loved the Horniman – the walrus, the music gallery and, as a sleep-deprived new parent, Busy Bees and the coffee in the café. I started volunteering largely because - with my youngest son starting school - it was getting harder for me to think of legitimate reasons to hang around the place. Joining the Engage volunteer team soon solved that.

The Engage team runs object handling on the engage trolley and welcomes visitors to the Butterfly House and Animal Walk. Very quickly, I went from being the harassed parent with the dinosaur-obsessed child on the one side of the engage trolley to being the well-informed volunteer on the other. Little did I know when I first signed up that Engage was just the start of my journey into the museum world.

  • IMG_3376, Gemma at London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2017 at City Hall. From left: fellow Family Learning Volunteer Marisa, Community Learning Assistant Ewen, and Gemma
    Gemma at London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2017 at City Hall. From left: fellow Family Learning Volunteer Marisa, Community Learning Assistant Ewen, and Gemma

Within a couple of months of starting with Engage, I also began volunteering with the Family team – putting my experience with nursery rhymes and the under 5s to good use by helping with the Busy Bees session each Tuesday.

The more I dug into what went on at the Horniman, the more I uncovered and the more I wanted to be involved. I helped the Community team with the Crossing Borders event for refugees. I helped design new object boxes and a banner for the new gallery. I tagged along with the Education team while they presented school sessions on evolution and I chatted to Kate, Sophie, and Rhiannon in turn about what was involved in managing the volunteers.

Still, I felt I’d only scratched the surface. There was much more to know, so I began to look into courses and other volunteering opportunities. Time and again, there was the Horniman.

I did a free, short online course with Futurelearn and the University of Leicester, and there was the Horniman acting as an example of how to make the best use of museum objects. I did some reading about “Museums in Britain”. There was the Horniman as one of the prime examples of Victorian museums for the general public.

Eventually, I secured a place to study Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture on an MA at Westminster. Unfortunately, juggling the course, my day job as a lawyer and my childcare responsibilities, has meant that I’ve had to cut back on my “hanging around at the Horniman” time, but even though I can’t come in as often as I used to, the Horniman is always there.

It’s there in the books I study from, through links with my fellow students and we are all well known for raising the museum as our go-to example of best practice in seminars. On my first course this term, I’ve got a museum visit - it’s to the Horniman. Thank you to the Horniman Museum for being an inspiration, an example, and an education.

The Mini-Museum of Travel

Helen Merrill fills us in on how our volunteers went about putting together their latest Engage Discovery Box, a mini-museum in itself.

In the run-up to the opening of the World Gallery later this year, many of us here at the Horniman have been trying to answer the question, What does it mean to be human?

As a part of this project, the volunteers from our Engage Discovery Box Project took the lead in creating new discovery boxes that will be used in conjunction with the World Gallery by visitors and groups for years to come. Discovery boxes act like mini-museums, containing objects that follow a theme chosen by the group.

A thirteen strong team was organised and a theme of 'travel' agreed upon to complement the vision of the museum's Founder, Frederick, J. Horniman – Tea trader, Collector, Philanthropist and Anthropologist. The team needed to search for Museum objects in the Horniman collection that considered this theme while taking into consideration a broad target audience of young families, outreach venues and other community groups.

The objects had to incorporate sight, colour, smell, sound, and touch. The catalogue of available objects was vast but the objects not only had to represent the theme but they needed to be the right size and shape to fit into the Discovery Box. Safe handling was also a key factor. Eventually, the list was whittled down to 8-10 suitable objects.

  • Saddled camel model
  • Horniman tea tin
  • Bike gear 
  • Compass 
  • Yugoslavian slippers 
  • Image of Dorothy’s shoes 
  • Indbanas head piece 
  • Masai milk gourd 
  • African head scarf
  • London tube map
  • Range of other maps
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Three smell pots out of a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and coffee.

Once the objects were chosen, the next stage was trial and evaluation with visitors. A special session was run in the Hands on Base to gauge visitor perception. Questions and feedback focused on discovery, adventure, travel, transport, and nostalgia, giving a picture of how the objects fit into the theme of travel while some objects were potentially not so relevant.

On the whole, the experience was extremely positive and thought-provoking, and it was great to know that a whole host of specialist groups would benefit from the mini-museum. For their efforts the team were nominated for the London Volunteers in Museums Awards which took place in September 2017 at City Hall. The team were declared runners-up in the award for 'Best Team Contribution', clearly recognising the enthusiasm and hard work of this dedicated team.

The accolade proved that the Horniman Volunteer Teams certainly know what it takes to engage, inspire and enrich visitor experience.

Behind the Scenes with Jaz

Jaz from the Horniman Youth Panel shares his photo diary with us, taking us behind the scenes of their film project for the World Gallery.

Hi, my Name is Jaz. Recently, I took part in a project filming for the Horniman with Chocolate Films. It went really well.

  • _MG_0100, Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.
    Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.

There were lots of cameras and lots of people I did not know and it made me shy, but I got my confidence up by joining in and taking photos behind the scenes.

This photo is of a little girl showing us her microphone, bell, whistle, and medal. She was more confident than me and that’s where I got my confidence from.

This photo is of a lady in her dress, called a Muumuu and she has a volcanic rock for smashing food to make a paste. I took the photo because her dress looks nice and the dress comes from Hawaii.

I had a camera every day to take photos. This photo is of London and I was adjusting the setting on the camera so I can take a good photo of the city and the Shard.

I was adjusting the light levels, zoom, and focus. Doing the settings made me calm and confident.

  • Jaz Photos Before+After, These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.
    These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.

For anyone who has not been to the Horniman you should come because it is a nice park. If you are like me, who likes trees, animals, and gardening, you will like it.

Thank you for reading.

Anahita in Sharjah

Horniman volunteer, Anahita, tells us how her experiences in Forest Hill have helped her in her new role in the United Arab Emirates.

My name is Anahita and I volunteer at the Horniman Museum. I recently left London for Sharjah, an Emirate in the United Arab Emirates, for a three-month professional internship at Sharjah Art Foundation.

I thought this would be a great chance to try out living in another country and to learn more about Middle Eastern art. So far I have been to a few exhibitions in both Sharjah and Dubai, and have met lovely artists, curators, and arts administrators.

At the Horniman, I was involved in many different areas across the Museum such as Engage, World of Stories, and Community Engagement. I have been able to use my experiences with Community Engagement in particular for my work here in the Education Department.

I am currently putting together the Autumn Disabilities Education Programme and planning art workshops for disabled young people in the community. Although my work is mainly office based, I am looking forward to working with local people at nearby art centres and the Urban Garden in Sharjah.

I am starting to get used to the heat - it is pretty similar to the temperature and humidity in the butterfly house. I will be back at the Horniman in mid-December, and look forward to seeing everyone then.  

  • Sharjah, The Sharjah Art Museum.
    The Sharjah Art Museum.

The Horniman wins big at volunteer awards

Gemma Murray, Engage Volunteer and Family Learning Volunteer supporting Busy Bees sessions, tells us about the recent London Volunteers in Museums Awards Ceremony 2017 which she and her fellow volunteers attended to recognise their huge contribution to the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

On Friday evening a couple of weeks ago, Horniman staff and volunteers made their way into Central London. What was the big draw? The London Volunteer in Museums Awards at City Hall. 

The London Volunteers in Museums Awards have been running annually for the past nine years with the aim of celebrating the contribution made by volunteers to museums throughout the capital. In previous years, Horniman volunteers including Peter O’Donovan and Ricky Linsdell have been winners, but could we repeat our successes? 

Upon arriving at the awards that were being held at City Hall, the first thing most of us did was to head out onto the balcony. There we found stunning views of Tower Bridge and the river bathed in the evening sun after what had been a long day of drizzle. There is nothing like seeing the Thames to make you really appreciate the fact that you are in London.

Once the awards got going, two things struck me. Firstly, quite how many diverse and fascinating museums there are in London. I like to think I've seen a lot of what London has to offer, but I still have so many places to check off my site seeing list. The second thing was the number and diversity of roles which are filled by volunteers. Listening to the winners was fascinating, but I also felt like I'd never really appreciated how many and various the roles played by volunteers at the Horniman really are.

Seher Ghufoor was a deserving winner of the Youth Award for her huge contribution to the Horniman Youth Panel and work involving young refugees, asylum seekers, and new arrivals. 

  • LVMA 2017 award winners including Seher in the centre of the shot - smaller (002), LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart
    LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart

The Engage ‘Discovery Box Project Volunteers’ were runners-up in the Best Team award for all their hard work making their mini-museum. Jane Beales was runner-up in the Developing in a Role award for her huge enthusiasm and hard work over at the SCC. I was runner-up in the Going the Extra Mile award for her proactive and sensitive support to our under-5’s Busy Bee programme, and Michelle Davis has finally been recognised for her sensitive and positive support of volunteers in the Aquarium after years of working tirelessly behind the scenes.

  • Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony (002), Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.
    Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.

So many roles – and this is before mentioning all those in the Butterfly House, Animal Walk, on the touch table and in the gardens, supporting weekend stories and events…

As the evening drew to a close, those left from the Horniman team swept Volunteering Manager Rhiannon onto the stage to thank her for her efforts in organising the proceedings -and to strike a pose on the winners' podium. With the massive pool of talent here at the Horniman, I'm sure next year we will sweep the board!

 

 

How to be a curious entomologist

Our volunteer, Helen, tells us how an afternoon with the nationally renowned Richard Jones helped her catch the entomology bug. 

The Devonshire Road Nature Reserve tucked away in the middle of residential Honor Oak is a real gem of South East London and only a stone’s throw away from the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

On 22 July, Richard Jones, the nationally acclaimed entomologist, led a group of excited wannabee entomologists into the meadows of the reserve armed with nets, magnifying glasses, collecting pots and test tubes to boot.  

Richard explained the right technique for using the nets, sweeping across the flora and grasses casting our nets far and wide to ensure a good catch to put in our test tubes.  We were advised to let go of species that had already been identified, particularly Bumble Bees and Butterflies and take back to the lab those insects useful for education and research that could be identified and ultimately added to the national database.  We were already feeling like debutante entomologists.

We were shown how to humanely kill our specimens with a form of ether, ethyl acetate, and to prepare and focus our microscopes so we could do the curatorial bit of mounting and labeling our bugs.

Picking up the array of micro pins with tweezers, a vital bit of kit used for spiking the smallest of insects required a great deal of care, patience, and a steady hand when working with the microscope.  For the flatter specimens, mounting them on card with a gum glue was the preferred method before adding data labels to our specimens. We had now become real citizen scientists.

As I left the nature reserve, with a spring in my step and renewed interest in plant bugs, leaf bugs, tortoise bugs, green shield bugs, the soldier beetle, picture-wing flies, and hoverflies – their facts and figures buzzing inside my head, I couldn’t help but feel that life just got a whole lot more curious!

 

How a hundred and fifty-year-old botany collection can help modern science

Katie Ott, a museum studies student on placement with the Horniman, tells us about her fascinating work with our botany collection.

I'm Katie, and I'm three weeks into an eight-week work placement at the Horniman, helping the Natural History team to research and document the botany collection.

The botany collection at the Horniman is made up of around 3000 individual specimens either mounted onto herbarium sheets or bound in volumes. The flowering plant collection dates mainly from 1830-1850.

  • Herbarium Volume, Two herbarium sheets from Flora Britannica no. 4., Katie Ott
    Two herbarium sheets from Flora Britannica no. 4., Katie Ott
 

The main task is to transcribe the (beautiful, but squiggly) Victorian handwriting on the herbarium sheets such as the plant's scientific name, and where it was found etc onto MimsyXG, our collections management database. 

Once it is all in one place, it then becomes possible to spot some trends within the herbarium data - for example, who the main collectors were, which amateur societies or organisations they were linked to, what they collected, where and why. This information then enables us to begin to understand the herbarium within its historical context and uncover the interesting stories surrounding Victorian plant collecting. Through documenting the herbarium we will also be able to make it an important resource for botanical researchers today. 

  • Mimsy Database, An example of a herbarium sheet recorded on Mimsy
    An example of a herbarium sheet recorded on Mimsy

So why would a hundred and fifty-year-old botany collection be relevant to modern science? Well, due to the work of these plant-collecting Victorians we know what grew where and when in the period they were collecting. For example, this herbarium sheet includes the name of the specimen - Potentilla reptans - and where it was collected - Thame in Oxfordshire - and when - July 1843. This information can be used to compare the known locations of Potentilla reptans today with where it was collected in the past, using examples held in this herbarium and others held elsewhere.

  • Potentilla reptans, Potentilla reptans looking glamorous on a herbarium sheet, Katie Ott
    Potentilla reptans looking glamorous on a herbarium sheet, Katie Ott

In doing so, it is possible to track the spread or decline of individual species - its distribution - through time. Species such as Potentilla reptans, also known as Creeping Cinquefoil, viewed by many gardeners as a slightly annoying weed, may not be such a cause for concern, but species that are rare and declining due to habitat loss, climate change or disease, or species which may have become invasive through their ability to thrive due to recent climatic changes, can be tracked by comparing data from historic herbaria with their contemporary counterparts. We only have to think about how much the British landscape has changed from the places familiar to someone like John Constable or Charlotte Bronte in the first half of the 1800s, compared to what is there now,  to understand how plant populations and diversity have changed over time. 

Not only is the herbarium useful in ecological terms, it is also interesting for us to see how plants have been named over time. Luckily, the name Potentilla reptans is still used today as the scientific name for Creeping Cinquefoil, but in other species, this may have changed many times between the mid-1800s and 2017. A single plant species may, at different points in time, have been attributed many different names. Potentilla reptans itself has around 17 synonymous names which are no longer in use or may previously have been used to describe a plant that was actually Potentilla reptans, but that botanists thought a different species. 

All in all, working with the herbarium has been great fun so far. It is interesting, as a museum studies student, to see the differences between collections care then and now - mercuric chloride, a form of mercury, may have made a super pest repellent in 1843 but now we go for less toxic methods - and after a while you do feel a bit of a connection between yourself and the plant collectors. Perhaps it is the nature of decoding the idiosyncrasies of someone's handwriting, but it is easy to feel as though you know the collectors through their work, which is, as you can see from the pictures, often not only scientifically valuable but beautiful.

In my next blog post, I hope to talk a little more about some of these collectors, as well as give an update on how the documentation is going.

Catch up with the Horniman Youth Panel

As they take a break for the Summer holidays we catch up with the Horniman Youth Panel to see what they've been up to this year.

We are the Horniman Youth Panel and we create fantastic events for people of all ages in the local community. Here is a review of our experience of organising and running some events at the museum in the last year.

Last November, we hosted our ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ youth event which proved hugely successful with 470 attendees. The event featured live music from local young talent, fortune telling, and much more.

To bring this project to life we had to work as a team. We designed posters and distributed them to local schools to raise awareness of the night, and on the night created a rota to ensure that everyone had a role to play on the night.

To celebrate the opening of the Robot Zoo in March we ran an event for families: ‘Cogs + Claws’.

We used African drums, masks, and puppets from the museum’s Hands on Base to tell fables full of animals, acting out stories with the children. The event also featured a near-impossible buzzer challenge, which one amazing child managed to complete winning a chocolate prize. Children also created the ultimate beast in a messy, but creative, arts and crafts challenge – we rushed around frantically with glitter and pom-poms to help them finish their creatures in time.

Keep an eye on the Horniman’s twitter account on 11 August as we are put in control for Kids in Museums ‘Teen Twitter Takeover’.

Everything you need to know about butterflies

As we get ready to open our Butterfly House, our Horniman volunteer Karen shares some of her best pictures and favourite facts about butterflies with us.

Like many, I adore butterflies, but I seem to see them all too rarely these days. As a child, growing up in Liverpool, I was totally smitten by butterflies. Summer after summer butterflies would appear in abundance in our garden and back then we didn't have mobile phones or tablets, so I would excitedly look them up in reference books I'd borrowed from my local library; from the humble cabbage white to the more exotic looking red admiral, and beautiful tortoise shell.  But these days, maybe because I spend most of my week either in an office or on the underground heading to the office, I’m in relatively few situations where I get the chance to see them. 

I am very fortunate to have a balcony attached to my flat; a small outdoor space of my own where I've tried to create my very own miniature wildlife oasis for insects and birds. I eagerly and regularly buy plants from my local flower shop in the hope that I might attract bees and butterflies, but sadly my gardening skills leave a lot to be desired and invariably my plants die, leaving me seeing very few, if any, of these visitors to my balcony. 

So in order to get my butterfly fix, I've recently been making an annual trip to the Natural History Museum's butterfly house. This was, in fact, the only place locally I knew where I could be close to and enjoy the company of these astonishing little creatures.  But that was until now, as this is about to change.

I have to say that I could barely contain my excitement when I heard that the Horniman Museum was building its very own butterfly house! So in anticipation of this summer’s opening, I would like to share with you some facts I have learned and pictures that I have taken of our colourful garden friends. It’s difficult to do them justice, but I hope you like them.

There are 4 stages in the life of a butterfly and in each stage, the butterfly is completely different:  

They start their life as egg 

  • Butterfly Eggs, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

They then become a caterpillar 

  • Caterpillar, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Then a chrysalis in which the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and emerges

  • Butterfly Emerging, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King
 

The butterfly then looks for a mate to reproduce and the cycle begins all over again

  • Courtship, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King
 

Butterflies are diurnal

They are active during the day whilst sleeping at night, hiding away under leaves, or between rocks. 

  • Butterfly 1, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies hibernate

It may come as a surprise but some butterflies actually hibernate over the Winter months and some survive this period either as a caterpillar or pupa. 

  • Butterfly 2, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Butterflies don't have noses or lungs

Adult butterflies, as well as caterpillars, breathe through a series of tiny openings along the sides of their bodies, called "spiracles." From each spiracle, there is a tube called a "trachea" which carries oxygen into the body. Butterflies smell using their antennae.

  • Butterfly 5, Image: Karen King
    Image: Karen King

Thank you for reading. And just for fun, can you find out which species of butterflies are in the pictures above?

Previous Next
of 51 items