Restarting the Mary Rose Museum Learning Programme Post Lockdown

Clare Barnes tells us about restarting the Mary Rose learning programme post-lockdown.

Museum learning departments faced many different challenges as a result of the pandemic, depending on circumstances for their particular museum. The Mary Rose Learning team were furloughed for over a year, and the uncertainty about how and when schools would be able to return was a major concern.

Our department used Skype for social catch-ups in order to stay in touch and support each other. Being able to take part in training sessions with museum learning colleagues in other organisations provided another welcome boost to morale. Hearing about the experiences of museums who stayed open or were operating in different ways, e.g. virtually, provided food for thought and helped us assess the opportunities and concerns around re-opening when we returned to work in Summer 2021.

The opportunity to rethink what we do and how we do it was an unexpected outcome. We were clear that we wanted to look forward and to create experiences that would be of lasting benefit – not just for now. There was clearly still demand for the ‘normal’ programme of workshops and visits, and an even greater appreciation of ‘real life’ interactions. We were very keen to help schools re-engage pupils with learning after such a disrupted and difficult year, so advertised a streamlined programme to enable us to manage capacity and workload. The object-based nature of museum experiences, whether seeing real artefacts or handling replicas, means it was a great way back into learning for pupils who may have struggled with working at home. Hands-on sessions have been a welcome bit of fun for all – the learning team, pupils and teachers alike!

However, there was clearly also an opportunity to extend our reach using digital technology and to cater for people who had engaged with the museum during lockdown from further afield. This worked geographically, but it also worked for us in terms of capacity; for example, we were able to offer to help with a virtual careers event as we saved on travel time and cost. In line with many people following lockdown, we are keen to embrace a healthier work/life balance and technology can help us work from home occasionally or meet virtually instead of travelling.

In the past we offered simple webchat question and answer sessions, but as a result of the pandemic, we developed a more sophisticated virtual version of our best-selling primary and secondary workshops in case schools would not be able to visit in Autumn 2021, and for those too far away to visit. We combined resources sent in advance with interactive activities during a live session for which schools pay the same as a workshop on site. Schools were directly involved in the planning and development of their session, ensuring the workshop was tailored to suit their needs and learning outcomes. In planning and running our secondary STEM virtual session we have developed resources and gathered new information which has reinforced our museum-based science workshops. However, in practice few schools have taken this up, preferring to visit in real life. Schools with concerns around Covid and overseas schools have expressed an interest, so as part of a hybrid programme we feel it is a useful tool and worth pursuing.

Our aim has always been to be as accessible as possible, and this has never been more relevant with organisations responding to current movements such as Black Lives Matter. New scientific evidence which came to light in 2019 for the crew of the Mary Rose, and which revealed their diverse origins from across England, Europe and North Africa, allowed us to tell new stories. We have continued this work in order to tell the fullest Tudor history we can and help pupils understand the way the past has been and is being interpreted. This new information has been integrated into every one of our workshops at the museum. Our collection may be from the past, but it has plenty to say that is relevant to the present in terms of addressing modern issues, such as social justice.

Despite being away from the museum for so long, the core of what we do has remained – high quality lifelong learning for all ages and abilities. Our aim to extend the reach of the programme has been bolstered by the increased user-friendliness of new virtual platforms and general interest in virtual learning. We pride ourselves on being a learning organisation, and we have certainly learned fast about working virtually and in a way that is Covid-safe!


Clare Barnes, Mary Rose Museum –   Autumn 2021