The Waulud’s Bank object box

Luton Culture

Timothy Vickers and Julie Reynolds, 15.02.2013
Luton Culture recently piloted a user-created object box based on a local archaeological site, Waulud’s Bank

This pilot was not formally structured meaning that the end product – the Waulud’s Bank object box, a mini museum that contains real objects from the archaeological site, replica objects and archive material – was not anticipated at the start.

Instead an organic approach was taken; year 9 pupils from a local high school worked as museum consultants to help develop the object-based learning resource.

The box‘s self-facilitation design enables it to be loaned out to schools with the objects being a catalyst for teaching. We’ve found that other users also easily engage with the box, from elderly daycentre patients with dementia to sixth-form students, local archaeology societies and University of the Third Age learners.

Using real archaeological objects in the box wasn’t a problem. Rugged and durable objects were chosen, such as pottery sherds and flint artefacts. Any risks outweighed by the power of touch – to inspire, aid the imagination and create a sense of wonder about a topic that is not always easy to teach using archive material such as photographs and maps.

Above all, the box provides a memorable experience for users of all ages and in an intimate way it helps with engagement to the local area and creates an understanding of a sense of place.

Tips for creating handling boxes:

  • The box the objects come in is as important as the objects themselves if you want people to engage.
  • Life-size replicas can really helps. Sometimes seeing what objects would have looked like makes the original fragments more exciting.
  • Ask participants for their observations to ensure they engage with objects, rather than just picking up and putting them down.
  • Facilitators should use the objects to tell a story.
  • Be aware that no two groups will respond in the same way, but that doesn’t immediately mean they are not engaging with the objects and that’s the fun and challenging aspect.

The project was funded by the Museums Association Effective Collections fund. We are now working to disseminate the findings and share knowledge on how to make an effective learning tool for £1,500 (this covers the cost of the box, replicas, graphics and object specialist advice).

Timothy Vickers is the collections care officer at Luton Culture and Julie Reynolds is a freelancer evaluator. For more information on the box please contact Timothy Vickers: / 01582 546722.