Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

Today, Wales is a modern, ethnically diverse, multicultural nation, and many of our family, friends and fellow Welsh men and women are scattered across the globe. We've been living through unprecedented times and our world is changing. So as St David’s Day approaches, we want to explore how Welsh identity might be changing too. 

We miss welcoming you to our Wales Is gallery at St Fagan’s Museum where we explore Welsh identity and ask you to share your thoughts on what it is to be Welsh. So, we'd really like to hear from you. Please give us ONE WORD – just ONE WORD to describe Wales or Welshness right now. It could be a thing, an emotion, a colour, whatever it is for you at this time. We want to understand whether things like dafodils or cawl or concepts such as 'hiraeth' or 'cwtch' still represent us, or are there other things and feelings that are emerging as icons or as associations with contemporary Wales.

One Word For Wales

We're interested in hearing from all and anyone who lives in Wales, or identifies as Welsh - of whatever ethnic or cultural background, regardless of where you live in the world right now.

We’ll collect all your words together and make something beautiful with them to share with you just before St David’s Day.  

Please feel free to Tweet your word or create an Instagram to share it, but please, please remember to add the #wordforwales hashtag to your post so that we can find it and include it in our trawl of responses. Alternatively, please email us your word to: onewordforwales@museumwales.ac.uk. 

And please remember to share this with friends and family across Wales and across the world.

The National Wool Museum’s Exhibition of Hope was launched in April 2020, at the beginning of the nation’s lockdown. The aim of the project is to create 20cm or 8” rainbow coloured squares in any way participants would like whether that be, knitted, felted, woven or crocheted. The squares will then be joined together by Wool Museum volunteers and created into a giant rainbow blanket which will be displayed at the National Wool Museum and then at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. Following the Exhibition smaller blankets will be created from the giant blanket and donated to various charities.

We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the project so far, the response has been fantastic, we have received over 670 squares from people up and down the country! Each square is gratefully received and thank you for your kind notes and best wishes. It is lovely to hear how many of you have found that creating the squares has helped during these unprecedented and challenging times. Although we cannot always be physically together, we are in spirit, hope and community.

Aeres Ingram is our most prolific contributor at present, having knitted 70 squares for the blanket. Speaking about the project, she said,

"knitting the squares for the rainbow blanket helped me a lot during lockdown and it gave me a sense of belonging and achievement, knowing I was involved with something important and also helping those in need. I look forward to seeing the pieces sewn together and the finished piece."

The Exhibition of Hope was featured in Adult Learners’ Week and two videos were released of Craftsperson Non Mitchell giving a demonstration on how to create a felted and woven square, so if you've yet to make a square, but would like to, please take a look below.


  

Crisis charity (South Wales), which supports homeless people, shared the Exhibition of Hope information on their Facebook pages and created physical packs including wool and instructions to send to services users to support them to take part.

The squares have been created so beautifully in various, colours, styles, stitches, and designs. Here are few which have been made and the stories behind them…

A rainbow coloured knitted square made with wool coloured with natural dyes.

This square has been made by Garden Volunteer, Susan Martin. Susan created the natural dyed yarn which she spun herself. The rainbow colours are from woad, weld and madder blended with white to give a lighter and tweedy effect, all these plants can be found in the National Wool Museum’s Dye Garden. The Natural Dye Garden was recently awarded the prestigious Green Flag Community Award which is fantastic news! For more information, please click here.

A knitted rainbow square for the blanket of hope

Craft Volunteer Cristina created this square using the first yarn made by Museum Assistant, Stephen Williams and Trainee Craftspersons Richard Collins and James Whittall when they were learning to spin. Visitors also contributed to the creation of the yarn, including a lady who had not spun for twenty years, a profoundly deaf child as well as a staff member’s mother.

 

A knitted square with the National Waterfront Logo on it, for our blanket of hope

This beautiful square complete with the National Waterfront Museum logo was created by National Waterfront Museum Gallery Assistant, Ruth Melton.

We look forward to welcoming the Craft Volunteers back to the Museum at some point this year and then work can begin on creating the blanket. Keep an eye out on our website link and social media pages to find out the latest information.

Thank you to The Ashley Family Foundation and Community Foundation Wales for support with this project.

The current closing date for contributions is 31/03/2021. Please click here for more information on how to get involved.

Thanks again for all your support.

 

Have you ever asked yourself the question “What’s behind the gallery doors of National Museum Cardiff”? Well, if you have then this blog might be for you. The specimens and objects you see in the galleries are just a fraction of those we have in the museum’s collections. So why do we have so many? Specimens in the galleries do suffer when exposed to light while on display, and occasionally from being touched by little sticky fingers! To help protect them, we regularly swap fragile objects on display with those in our stores. We also change objects round for the different exhibitions we produce. Objects behind the scenes are also used for a whole variety of different activities such as education and research. 

While we may not be able to put all of our specimens on display, we do like to share as many of them as we can via our social media channels. In the Natural Sciences Department, we do that via the @CardiffCurator Twitter account. Each week, we might share our worm highlights on #WormWednesday, some of our fantastic fossils on #FossilFriday and various other amazing specimens on other days of the week via various alliterations! 

Of course, the festive season is no different and each year we promote Christmassy objects via a #MuseumAdvent calendar. For 2020, our calendar has been inspired by the ‘Nature on your doorstep’ program which the museum has run throughout lockdown aimed at reconnecting people with nature. One of the main activities has been photo bingo, where we challenged people to find and photograph a number of objects. For winter bingo, we released a card at the end of November with 24 wintery things, such a robin, holly, frost and a sunset. Behind every door of our museum advent calendar, we included helpful tips and photographs from our collections, alongside live photos to help people find everything on the bingo sheet.

We are nearly half way through the calendar, but if you would like to join in why not follow the #MuseumAdvent hashtag over on @CardiffCurator and see if you can call “House” before the 24th December.

The Carers Wales report State of Caring 2019 estimated that last year there were 400,000 carers in Wales. The 2011 Census gave the overall figure as 370,000 or 12% of the population, with 30,000 of those carers under the age of 25 and it noted that Wales has the highest proportion of carers under 18 in the UK. These figures all refer to unpaid carers, who are supporting an adult or child with a disability, physical or mental illness, or affected by substance misuse. It does not include those working in paid caring roles.

It is estimated that most of us, three out of five, will become a carer at some point in our lives.

Given these huge numbers and the fact that most of us are, or will be, affected why don’t we hear more about carers? One reason could be that carers are too busy being carers. I have been a carer myself and before joining Amgueddfa Cymru I spent 30 years working in health and social care services, in which time I would estimate that I worked with a few thousand carers. My experience and extensive studies show that many carers experience loneliness and social isolation, poor mental or physical health themselves, and financial pressure, as a result of their caring role.

So what does this mean for Amgueddfa Cymru? One of the goals for our 10-year strategy, due to be published in spring 2021, is that we are relevant to everyone and accessible to everyone; another is a focus on health and wellbeing for all. Our community engagement programme has a very wide range of ways for people who have support needs (due to health, disability or other circumstances) to get involved in museum activities as a visitor or through our volunteering and learning programmes. We certainly welcome carers via these initiatives and there are many carers who have got involved, but as yet we don’t have very much that is specifically designed around the needs of carers.

Looking ahead to next year, the Volunteering team want to provide some opportunities designed specifically for carers. This may involve recruiting volunteers who can support carers in visiting our museums, or, it may mean designing volunteering opportunities for carers that work around caring demands. At the moment we imagine a mix of attendance options – some opportunities for carers to attend or join something on their own, others where carers can do so with the person they provide care for. 

The usual image of carers is of someone older, caring either for an elderly parent or for their spouse or partner. There are many who fit that description, but there are also more young adult or child carers than most people realise and the demands of caring risk an adverse impact on their education, development, and overall quality of life. We are therefore planning to include some opportunities that are specifically aimed at young carers.

People from all communities face caring responsibilities, which may in some cases be made even harder by systemic discrimination and disadvantage. My own experience of caring for my Iraqi grandmother was that the support services available genuinely intended to welcome everyone but were nearly all set up around the habits, lifestyles and life experiences of a White British population. The food and activities offered, and life events discussed (for instance in Reminiscence therapy), held no relevance or comfort for her whatsoever. I’m not suggesting this gives me any insight into another person’s experience, it doesn’t, but it does give an insight into the limitations of a single approach. 

So we know we will need a nuanced and varied approach, and this is where we would like your help. We have created a survey which sets out some of our ideas so far, but we also need to hear from you if you are a carer or have been a carer in the past. If you’re not, we’d be grateful if you could help us by sharing this with carers you know.

The survey launches on Carers Rights Day, 26 November, and on the same day we’re also planning a live online discussion (with a free event ticket for every carer who joins us). You can find the details of how to participate, and also the ‘taster’ sessions on the same day, via this web page: https://museum.wales/getinvolved/carers

How a Distanced Professional Training Year Can Still Be Enjoyable and Successful

As an undergraduate, studying biosciences at Cardiff University, I am able to undertake a placement training year. Taxonomy, the study of naming, defining, and classifying living things, has always interested me and the opportunity to see behind the scenes of the museum was a chance I did not want to lose. So, when the time came to start applying for placements, the Natural Sciences Department at National Museum Cardiff was my first choice. When I had my first tour around the museum, I knew I had made the right choice to apply to carry out my placement there. It really was the ‘kid in the candy shop’ type of feeling, except the sweets were preserved scientific specimens. If given the time I could spend days looking over every item in the collection and marvelling at them all. 

The 'candy shop' moment of seeing the museum's collections

Jars of preserved specimens in the collections at National Museum Cardiff

Of course, the plans that were set out for my year studying with the museum were made last year and, with the Covid-19 pandemic this has meant that plans had to change! However, everyone has adapted really well and thankfully, a large amount of the work I am doing can be done from home or in zoom meetings when things need to be discussed.

Currently, my work focuses on writing a scientific paper that will be centered on describing and naming a new species of shovel head worm (Magelonidae) from North America. Shovel head worms are a type of marine bristle worm and as the name describes, are found in the sea. They are related to earth worms and leeches. So far, my work has involved researching background information and writing the introduction for the paper. This  is very helpful for my own knowledge because when I applied for the placement I didn’t have the slightest clue about what a shovel head worm was but now I can confidently understand what people mean when they talk about chaetigers or lateral pouches!

Part of the research needed for the paper also includes looking closely at species found in the same area as the new species, or at species that are closely related in order to determine that our species is actually new.

Photos for the paper were taken by attaching a camera to a microscope and using special imaging stacking software which takes several shots at different focus distances and combines them into a fully focused image. While ideally, I would have taken these images myself, I am unable to due to covid restrictions, so my training year supervisor, Katie Mortimer-Jones took them.

Camera mounted on a microscope used to take images of the worms

Then I cleaned up the backgrounds and made them into the plates ready for publication. I am very fortunate that I already have experience in using applications similar to photoshop for art and a graphics tablet so it wasn’t too difficult for me to adjust what I already had in order to make these plates. Hopefully soon, I will be able to take these images for myself.

Getting images ready for publication

My very first publication in a scientific journal doesn’t seem that far away and I still have much more time in my placement which makes me very excited to see what the future holds. Of course, none of this would be possible without the wonderful, friendly and helpful museum staff who I have to express my sincere thanks to for allowing me to have this fantastic opportunity to work here, especially my supervisor, Katie Mortimer-Jones.

Shovel head worm