National Museums NI Treasure House project

Thursday was the most exciting day of this week for me.  It was the first Treasure House project visit at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum and everyone involved was excited, but nervous, because the pressure was on to give the first groups to visit a great time at the museum.  The plan was to chat with the group over tea and cakes, then break into two smaller groups and do some soda bread making and tasting, and some traditional storytelling in a cozy cottage.  I’ve been volunteering with NMNI for a year and a half and really enjoy the group visits because our guests are always excited about seeing something new and the people I meet always have really great stories from their younger days.  As the Treasure House project is in partnership with Clanmil Housing some of the visitors have mobility issues so we planned the locations and activities with this in mind.  Over tea and lots of buns and biscuits I got chatting with the group about their interests and what they hoped to gain from visiting the museum.  One of the men in the group was a photographer and had visited other NMNI sites before and was very keen to explore all the buildings, and I soon discovered I needed to keep an eye on him so he didn’t get left behind!

In the farmhouse the lovely Dorothy demonstrated soda bread making, and we discussed other uses for baking soda that the group had heard of, as well as how to use an old griddle on a modern day hob, as one of the group had recently bought an old iron griddle at auction.  I was really pleased to learn some new uses for a goose, I had heard of using goose feathers for cleaning griddles, and goose fat for cold remedies, but never putting a goose up a cold chimney and making it flap it’s wings to clean the soot out!

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After the group had tried the soda bread and chatted about home life when they were younger we went to the fisherman’s cottage and settled down in front of the fire for some storytelling.  It was lovely and cozy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, especially the ghost story.

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While the group were waiting for their lunch, over more tea (this volunteering lark is terrible for a girl’s waistline!) I chatted to some of the group to see what they thought of their visit, what they had enjoyed, and what they would take away from the experience.  Even though this was the first session and we were trialling the format everyone complimented us on how well organised the session had been, and how they had enjoyed themselves and felt very relaxed.  A couple of the group with mobility issues said they had been surprised at how accessible the museum site was for them, and one lady even said that my conversation with her about social inclusion and Irish traditions was the highlight of the visit for her!  We had a really lovely chat about how non Ulster folk can identify with the museum’s collections and how other cultures have similar domestic items as the ones she had seen during her visit.  Everyone was keen to return to see more of the museum, and I hope their enthusiasm means more residents will join them next time.

I’m excited about the Treasure House project as it runs for 5 years and will mean that I get to build meaningful relationships with participants because the groups will be visiting on a regular basis.  It’s so rewarding when I’m volunteering with the Live & Learn project and we have familiar faces returning regularly, and you get to see people’s confidence in their skills and knowledge growing.  I had such a great morning I went home smiling to myself feeling like we’d really achieved the start of something in only a couple of hours.  If only everyday was this much fun!

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