Weston Gallery, Nottingham

Charlotte Pratley, 15.06.2017

Learning points from a collaborative loan box project

Life Lines – a user-led amateur first world war research group – was launched in 2014 to deepen engagement with visitors to Weston Gallery, which is part of Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

Following a series of workshops that taught members to care for, explore and share their personal collections, the group chose to create a book of their research and collections.

They wanted to share this with younger generations so, with professional guidance, they piloted three engagement boxes for Key Stage 3 pupils in 2016. Each box uses objects to illustrate an individual’s experience during the first world war, using curriculum-based themes such as human rights; mental and physical health; family and relationships; and censorship.


Learning points:


  • Teachers can be unreliable. Of the 50 teachers contacted, three joined the steering group. Only one turned up but they were invaluable in piloting and ideas.
  • Advice from teachers gave us the confidence to address sensitive subjects using objects, such as a 4.5 howitzer shell, a replica jam tin bomb and photos of early facial reconstructive surgery. These catch the attention of pupils and can stimulate debate and reflection.
  • We found that teachers prefer self-led boxes that come with a resource pack of suggested activities, themed discussion points and facts, a pictorial contents list and a risk assessment. Designing all of this took almost as long as creating the boxes.
  • Objects that can be used to “compare and contrast” (for example, the highly engineered howitzer shell compared with a crude jam tin bomb) can support simple engagement. More advanced pupils can discuss the social implications of objects on themes such as women’s rights, disability rights and resources in wartime, and in comparison to their lives now.
  • A co-production approach and bombs grab media attention. This exceeded our expectations, leading to 12 articles with a reach of 2.5 million people. The media were demanding and it was important to turn the conversation to the outcomes to give the project validity and avoid a simplistic focus on “taking bombs into schools”.
  • Design is important. We employed an artist to design and create functional yet aesthetic boxes, and our marketing (done in-house) was visual while addressing key needs of teachers. This approach added complexity but inspired the team and made a more attractive offer; a beautiful resource to use at conferences, with other first world war groups and, potentially, a wider audience than originally expected.

The project was led by Culture Syndicates CIC, a heritage and arts consultancy.


Charlotte Pratley is the director of Culture Syndicates CIC