Week 1 – Unicorns and Mermaids – Team CASPA – the pre-visit, volunteering at the Museum of London

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Adam explaining what a saggar is and why John Dwight didn’t always get it right.

Here we go, Week 1. I can’t believe we are ready to get this project off the ground. I am volunteering on a new project at the Museum of London archive working with Adam Corsini, Collections Manager, and a group of young people from CASPA, a charity that supports children, young people and families affected by autism. I have already written an introductory blog about this project so at the risk of repeating myself you can find out more about the background here – Introduction.

We are starting off with a pre-visit today before the the project gets fully up to speed. Initial teething problems mean our first meeting has been put back a week. I sit in the office at the museum archive in Shoreditch on a freezing cold day waiting anxiously to meet our group for the first time. Will they turn up?

This is where working in partnership with a community group is of huge benefit. We have already met Helen and Sarah from CASPA and talked through the project. They have taken lots of photographs as visual supports to show the young people who are going to take part. CASPA’s support is vital to get everyone involved, travelling into London and navigating Old Street underground station with its 8 exits can be difficult at the best of times. If you suffer with anxiety, which often goes hand in hand with autism, travelling to new places can become exceptionally difficult and often proves an insurmountable barrier.

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Looking for ghosts around the archive…
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Bones as tools and pirate plates

The pre-visit is designed to relieve some of those anxieties. We have aimed for a short 1 1/2 – 2 hour visit. There will be a tour of the building, introductions to staff, an explanation of the work involved and why it is necessary. There will also be a little bit of form-filling and the group are staying for lunch to help them feel more used to their new volunteering environment.

On the tour I can see we already have some keen history buffs. Adam asks which periods in history they are interested in and pulls out a spectacular Roman shoe from one of the thousands of boxes in the archaeological archive. Finding something a little nearer to home he reveals a dead cat and a creepy dolls face excavated from Shoreditch Park just over the road, from around the time of the Second World War. You really can find anything in these boxes!

The group, all aged between 16 and 22, will be repacking archaeological material from a site in Fulham where John Dwight pioneered the production of stoneware in the 17th century. We get to see what well-packed boxes look like, the material is better protected and they are easier to search. We compare these to the boxes from Fulham (see below) and we can see how the work that will be done will be improving the archive for future generations.

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We will be doing some digitisation work on these later in the project.

Adam gets the group to go through the process of repacking a piece of pottery together so they can see the process involved. We get a sneak peak at some of the material we will be dealing with over the coming weeks. Comparisons between the mermaid medallion and Starbucks logo are being made and it seems broken bits of pot are already working their magic on our new recruits.

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Starbucks logo looking like our mermaid

It is an exciting start and I can’t wait for next week when the project will get properly under way. As I love a blogging challenge I will be writing brief blogs each week to share our work and let you know how we are getting on. You can follow us on Twitter as well with the #TeamCASPA hashtag – keep your eyes open on Wednesdays for the next 8 weeks!

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You can find out more about Caspa here – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/?s=teamcASPA

 

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