Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Farewell after fifty-one years of guiding........

This year two Primary School Education Guides have stepped down from the team after an incredible fifty-one years of combined service!  A huge thank you goes to Jean Flemming and Rosemary Lee for their great commitment to the Museum and for the number of children they have shown around the Pitt Rivers' Collection.

Lady stands in front of chocolate cake smiling
Jean Flemming © Pitt Rivers Museum

Lady stands next to balloon saying 'You'll be missed'
Rosemary Lee © Pitt Rivers Museum

Jean Flemming was one of the founding members of the Guides 33 years ago.  She was recruited by the late Hélène la Rue, Curator of Music at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Bate Collection, who realised that pupils need to be in small groups if they are to navigate the Museum and engage fully with the objects.  The typological display means that objects from a particular culture are scattered throughout the Museum and need the nimble feet of a Guide to link them together.  So if a class of 30 children want to look at Ancient Egypt they would be divided into 3 smaller groups and would be allocated a Guide each to track down the relevant objects.  The Guides encourage the pupils to interact with the objects through a range of activities and questions.  Jean's background as a teacher and warm personality have made her a natural as a Guide and her top tips to new guides are: 'Keep Smiling.  Be nice to the children. Be welcoming and listen to what they have to say'.

Lady holds up cushion with picture of Pitt Rivers Museum on it and the text 'Thank you Jean'
Thank you presents for Jean! © Pitt Rivers Museum

I asked Jean how Guiding had changed at the Museum since she had first been here.  She told me how in the early years they would devise the trails themselves and how she would scamper down to the printers on Holywell Street to collect trails hot off the press.  Now there is a designated Primary School Education Officer (myself!) to co-ordinate the trails and train the Education Guides. I also asked Jean about memorable occasions and she reminisced about dressing up in Victorian costume to inform children about the explorer Mary Kingsley who travelled around West Africa in the 1890s. Jean has always been prepared to put herself out to accommodate the children and will often do two trails in a day if there is no one else to cover.  Even now she has assured me that if I can't cover a trail she will come along and fill in.  That's Jean - always putting others before herself and absolutely professional in her duties as a Guide.

Group of people stand together smiling
Rosemary's Leaving Tea Party © Pitt Rivers Museum

Rosemary has been volunteering as a Primary School Education Guide for an impressive 18 years. Her advice to new guides would be 'walk the course', arrive in good time and don't get flustered (her previous experience as an orthopaedic nurse probably helped here!) One of her favourite moments was when a group of children were looking at a model of an ivory sledge pulled by huskies.  A child asked her if she had considered that a Lamborghini would go much more quickly than a sledge pulled by dogs. Another child quickly pointed out that a Lamborghini would not cope with all the ice and snow and ruts. The Lamborghini expert then launched into a detailed description of tyres.  Discussions don't always go in the direction you expect!  True to her words of advice, Rosemary has always remained calm with the surprises guiding has thrown at her!  We already miss Rosemary's no nonsense approach but still catch sight of her through her role in the Friends.  Her practical nature stands out when asked about her best moment as a Guide for she replied: " It was a great day when the Museum clock was returned!"

There are still twelve volunteer Education Guides who do a fantastic job of showcasing the collections at the Pitt Rivers.  They engage pupils with the most amazing artefacts from seal-intesine Inuit raincoats to Native American shields and baby carriers.  Find out more about our Guided trails and either book a trail or tell someone about them. They could not happen without the unfailing support of volunteers like Jean and Rosemary so a huge thank you to the whole team of Education Guides.

Becca McVean
Education Officer (Primary)


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