Nicola travelled to Coventry for the Family Friendly Conference to share ideas about what makes museums ‘family friendly’. She ran a workshop on ‘Creating Stories with Museum Objects’, and heard case studies and stories from other museums around the UK.

Once upon a time there lived a Museum Educator who really loved stories.  Scary stories, wordless stories, fantastical stories, life stories. But most of all she loved seeing people create stories of their own: new stories, unique stories, ones that have never been told before. She had seen people make powerful connections with museum objects through stories, so she set out on a quest: to free the storytelling powers of museum educators!

Armed with a variety of props to fire people’s imaginations (from cuddly ladybirds, to strings of beads, from pot sherds to fabric teapots), she set out for Coventry! Once there, she introduced participants to Booker’s Seven Basic Plots and how to develop these into museum tales. As if by magic, stories began to be woven together, and the workshop participants began to see how they could take this process home to make stories using their own museum objects.

Museum objects can take you places: the conference was hosted by the Coventry Travel Museum

Other adventurers arrived in Coventry with their own stories: Dea Birkett, the founder and Creative Director of Kids in Museums, who is shortly to take on a new role with Circus250, shared some very personal and heartfelt stories of her own family’s experiences. These stories are what fixed in all the listeners’ minds the determination to remember, respect and plan for her key message that ‘not all families are like yours’.

Every picture tells a story: illustrations as labels at York Art Gallery

Harriet Curnow and Lucy Wright from the V&A enthralled with their tale of SEND family programming: developing resources with families to enable them to create their own stories in meaningful and accessible ways. Gaby Lees’ account of how and why York Art Gallery came to win the 2016 Kids in Museums Award had everyone wanting to set out on yet another voyage-to see the innovative curatorial decisions that are being made there, and particularly to enjoy the ‘hands on’ area (in fact there are many ways in which touching of objects is being encouraged here), where children and families are encouraged to handle and play with ceramic objects from the collection.

‘Pots will break!’ said Gaby, ‘that’s part of their story.’ She keeps all the broken pieces from these objects, ready to tell a story of their own one day!

After a long day of exciting case studies, and various opportunities to develop ideas to take home through practitioner-led workshops, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways. Did everyone live happily ever after? That’s another story…