Museum of Horrors and more

Work with Museums-Sheffield slackened off slightly for me over the past couple of weeks after a real Museum of Horrors experience …

The museum folks put on a showing of Night of the Living Dead as a late-evening treat for Halloween fans on Friday 30th October. The venue was Weston Park Museum, which certainly was creepy thanks to several corridors being unlit and staff wearing ghoulish make-up (me included). The modest crowd loved it – we ran a bar – and I got a chance to watch the B&W 1968 classic that’s funnier than one might suspect director George Romero intended.

Another kind of script …

So after a couple of weeks to recover my shattered wits hiding under a duvet, I carried out another Museum job – this time with a pot of black coffee sat safely on my desk at home yesterday morning.

A few Joe Scarborough paintings (Source: Google Images)

A few Joe Scarborough paintings (Source: Google Images)

Joe Scarborough is a painter who is popular in Sheffield and recognised as a super artist across and well beyond Yorkshire. His cartoonish illustration style is perhaps best described as “Where’s Wally-meets-Lowry” and his work is both educational and fun to look at. Scarborough’s work not only features in national art collections but is widely available in print format and to be found in publications.

Weston Park Museum, one of Museums-Sheffield’s prestige sites, has just installed a 30-foot panorama by Scarborough depicting “Sheffield through the Ages”. The work took six years to complete and takes us on a trip right across the city and covers the years from the 1940s up to the current decade.

The colourful work is already proving a smash hit with kids and parents visiting Weston Park – the latter often explaining familiar Sheffield scenes from the past to their wide-eyed youngsters.

BBC Radio Sheffield interviewed the artist very recently and I was tasked with transcribing what turned out to be 1,500 words to be made available soon in printed format. (An iPlayer link here if you want to hear the interview. Hurry! It will expire in 22 days!)

I actually met Joe Scarborough at a fundraising event I helped organise for Sheffield’s excellent Merlin Theatre about 20 years ago. Remembering him as a warm and generous man, it was a pleasure to hear his voice again over the weekend, albeit through iPlayer.

All work and play!

How does one inspire youngsters to learn about the work of being a curator in a museum?

A couple of days ago I was privileged to work with two groups of 30 five-year-olds by assisting Anita, a super lady who works with Museums-Sheffield. Also present were the kids’ teachers and classroom assistants, all of whom clearly enjoyed bringing their classes out of school and into Sheffield’s amazing Weston Park Museum.

whipping top

Each session started off with the children discussing a display of toys in the museum’s public area. They learned how to assess whether each toy was old or new and had a chance to point out their favourites: how kids do love to be asked for their opinions!

Then it was a trip upstairs to a spacious activity room where Anita and I had previously spread a wide selection of toys (some old, some new) out across five tables, each with six seats. But first-off the kids sat in a large semi-circle in front of Anita where she encouraged them to decide which toys – ones she’d already chosen – were likely to be from bygone times and which were more modern. What was most encouraging in this session was that a spinning aeroplanes toy, dating from early last century, was preferred over a talking Buzz Lightyear model – suggesting an early nous for being a museum curator. Continue reading


I interviewed Norman Perrin last year about his tireless work bringing the issue of conductive education to the fore.

Norman told the story of an amazing organisation he helped found well over twenty years ago to help young and older adults living with cerebral palsy.

Norman Perrin of PACESWho are you and what was the position you retired from at Paces?

My name is Norman Perrin and I’m the founder of Paces and its first Chief Executive. In August 2014 I stepped down, being replaced as Chief Executive by Gavin Teasdale.

What is Paces and when was it founded? Who was involved with setting it up?

Paces came together around 1992, though it wasn’t registered as a charity until 1996. At that time, Scope (it was still The Spastics Society then) was organizing two Conductive Education summer schools and I managed to persuade them to hold one in Sheffield.

By then loads of families, many from Sheffield, had heard of “conductive education” and had made the still difficult journey to the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary. So, for three weeks in the summer of 1992, we had 100 children and their families come to Sheffield from all over the UK, along with 50 conductors (“teachers”) from the Peto Institute. Sheffield Hallam University (at Collegiate Crescent) hosted the event brilliantly. Two more summer schools were held in 1993 and 1994.

The idea for Paces grew out of some of us wanting visiting families to have the best possible stay in Sheffield and the urge to do something more permanent. Continue reading

Oral History Society training course

I attended a great course last week provided by the Oral History Society.

Mum and me - Oral HistoryEntitled “Introduction to Oral History”, the day covered several basic areas in great depth:

  • Basic interview techniques
  • Memory as evidence
  • Introduction to ethics and copyright
  • Introduction to recording equipment

Course tutor Melanie Winslow certainly knew her stuff. About a dozen of us enjoyed exploring the above topics in group conversations – all aided with great handouts, slide, audio presentations and Melanie’s sage advice.

As someone who has worked in oral history, both in the distant past with the Leith Local History Project and more recently with an oral project being added to the Imperial War Museum, some of the course content was well familiar to me whilst other parts proved especially revelatory.

For example, the section about “memory as evidence” underlined the need to let people remember without interruption, even if those memories were perhaps factually inaccurate or even downright unlikely. I hadn’t previously thought this issue through and points discussed showed that errors of memory can themselves be valuable for harvesting contextual information gleaned.

Continue reading

Documenting how to organise festivals

Last year I travelled to Finland and Iceland to document research into how people can put together their own festivals – resulting in the three distinctive videos below.

The brief was wide open to interpretation and so I chose to produce three very different styles of documentary film.

Pixelache is an international organisation concerned mainly with giving “ordinary” people the tools, expertise and confidence to produce their own festivals. Recurring theme strands include digital technology, the arts, design and education – all set within an open source context – and this can all be seen in the videos I made.

Here is the final video, a culmination of the previous two, documenting the Do It Anyway festival that was held in Sheffield across a weekend in May 2015:

Below are the 2014 films shot in Reykjavik and Helsinki covering the research process:

Imperial War Museum success!

The Imperial War Museum today confirmed that they’re about to add my interview with an 87-year-old member of the Hitler Youth to their Oral Archive.

UPDATE – 26th October – The IWM has finally listed the item at

300 gunter loos pdf coverHerr Gunter Loos lives in Cologne, Germany. I recorded an audio interview with him in January 2014 at his flat and offered a copy to the Imperial War Museum a few months later.

Herr Loos was too young to be enlisted in the German army but was put to work as a flackhelfer – shooting down Allied bomber aircraft during raids and picking up the dead afterwards. As with everyone else of his generation, he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth.

Gunter’s account of life at the time, including issues around Hitler’s rise to power, is candid, fascinating and compelling.

The Imperial War Museum has a full version of the audio interview – where none of Gunter’s responses in German to my questions are faded out and replaced with translations – and below is a link to Soundcloud where I uploaded a shorter version (much less German language) for non-German speakers.

Click on the pic to the right for a text transcript in PDF form or click below to hear the abridged version.

Storytelling with a Twist

Caroline Twist works with people living with dementia, mainly in the Yorkshire region.

Caroline uses reminiscence in a lot of her activities and, of course, this suggests possible future opportunities for oral history projects.

I filmed an interview with Caroline a few months ago, just before she went off to travel Europe and then Brazil on an award from the Winston Churchill Memorial Fund. She is starting a business doing reminiscence and other activities with elderly folk, and her blog is

Caroline made life much more bearable for my dad when he was still alive and resident in a nursing care home – something for which I’m eternally grateful to her.

Land of Milk & Honey

Land of Milk & Honey was the first video documentary I ever produced, back in 2012.

It features two independent food producers based just outside Sheffield who have built quality brands in response to dealing with the current economic downturn.

The edit’s a bit rough, but the stories are timeless. A previous version (uploaded to Vimeo) received tens of thousands of views; the current upload at Youtube is somewhat neglected!

Castle Market remembered

I shot a series of photographs of the old Castle Market in Sheffield that was eventually demolished around the end of 2013.

The market was popular with poorer folks as it contained many bargains in terms of food produce, textiles and much more.

A market was first established on the site in the 13th century. The version that was demolished contained lots of clues from one of its refurbishments in the 1960s.

The market has now moved to another location, on The Moor shopping precinct about a third of a mile away, but the special atmosphere has largely gone.