Wiltshire museum bids to shed stuffy image

Wiltshire Heritage Museum is dispelling the stuffy image of museums by signing up to a children friendly initiative.

The museum, based in Devizes, is one of more than 40 in the UK which has signed up to the Kids in Museums manifesto.

The manifesto is a 20 point list of ways in which museums can make family visits more enjoyable and engaging.

The points include ‘Don’t say ssssshush! Museums are places for families to chat, have conservations and discuss’ and ‘Be interactive and hands on so kids can touch objects and learn know what they’re allowed to handle and what they aren’t.’ Wiltshire Heritage Museum signed up to the manifesto last week when new toilets with baby changing facilities were officially opened and it dropped admission charges for children under 16 in family groups. Previously families had to pay £1 for the first child. Admission is also free for adults on Sundays.

David Dawson, director of the museum and a father of three sons, said: “We are committed to encouraging families and children into the museum.We hold regular family days and at the last family Roman day we had 500 visitors.

“The kids who come to the museum love it. It’s great to hear the museum buzzing with kids.

“We had a school group of 60 kids in the other day and it was great. The displays we have here are very interactive and hands on and the children love them.

“When I was a child what got me hooked on archaeology was being able to handle a bronze age axe at a museum.”

Out of the 20,000 people who visit the museum a year just under 3,000 are children. In addition the museum does outreach work and this year the museum’s education officer has worked with 1,200 children at schools.

Of the 20 point manifesto Mr Dawson says the museum has achieved most of them. He said the only point it was not able to fulfill was to have a lift in the building.

The manifesto was launched in 2003 under the auspices of The Guardian newspaper when writer Dea Birkett’s young son was thrown out of the Royal Academy for being too noisy.

The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is Designated by the Government as holding a nationally significant collection.

The archaeological collection contains important Bronze Age finds as well as from the Roman, Saxon, medieval and recent history periods.

The new toilet facilities at the museum were made possible by grant funding from Kennet District Council, Landfill Communities Fund credits from Viridor and Hills Waste and a range of other charitable trusts.

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