I visited this local museum with two of my children along with some friends and their children during the recent half term school holiday. We had chosen to visit here because of the typical changeable British weather, so we wanted somewhere which had indoor things to do - but also where the boys could run around a bit if the weather permitted.
As the weather was sunny when we all arrived we decided to let the boys run off some excess energy outside for a while. They were all excitable and noisy and had a good time playing in the walled garden area of the museum (which is lovely).There are some faces attached to the walls in the garden area and I was intrigued by this and went inside to ask about them. I was given a card with pictures of the faces on and names underneath the pictures. The title of the exhibit was clearly marked on the card as 'Facing the Millennium' We adults took time looking at the card, seeing if there were names we could recognise - Jilly Cooper sadly being the only one. We guessed that there must be some significance (surely?) in who was depicted, so I went inside to ask. I was told that they had no information on it - after all, 'it was over 14 years ago'. This was said in a not very friendly tone and was quite dismissive - I felt like I was asking a stupid question. I'm not sure that the British Museum in London takes this attitude on exhibits... I think that if they can manage to have far more information on a exhibit which dates back to 3500BC (such as an Egyptian mummy) then surely the Museum in the Park can manage to have some information (other than that they were all local people) on an exhibit which is only 14 years old! Hence the 'uninformed' part of my title....
Our children were aged between almost 5 (next month) and 8. They are all friends and would generally be described by those who know them as intelligent children who are not badly behaved. They certainly were not bored at the prospect of looking around the museum. We took a leisurely approach to our tour - we weren't in any hurry. Our first encounter with volunteer staff during our tour was in one of the downstairs rooms - one of the children was sat on a chair. They were told not to sit on it as it was part of the exhibition. However, it was not marked in any way as 'do not touch/ do not sit here', unlike other items in the same room. No further information about it was forthcoming - National Trust volunteers (where items are marked appropriately) are (in my experience) happy to explain why people shouldn't sit on an item (age, wear and tear etc) - children are happy to take notice of this - but enquiring minds usually like to have an explanation of WHY they can't do something. The general air of the volunteer concerned was unwelcoming, officious and slightly standoffish - we appeared to be being a nuisance.
With 5 children between 3 adults we easily kept track of them all at any time - any stragglers were still under the attention of one of us at all times. Yes, they were not the quietest of children and we were aware of this. However, their behaviour was not in any way wayward - they merely took an excited interest in what was around them. We did remind them if the volume reached the louder end of the scale to be quiet - but felt watched by staff at all times. Staff also told our children to be quiet and even asked one (in quite an intimidating manner, inches away from their face) as to why they were shouting - when they weren't actually shouting, just talking loudly. They were also told that they couldn't play with one of the games in the brewery/ pub games room, even though they were under direct supervision of one of us.
We ended up in an apparently dedicated play area, with toy trains and puzzles. This was set slightly away from the other rooms and we commented amongst ourselves that perhaps (at last) here the boys could play without being told off. However, we were repeatedly checked upon by a member of staff who walked past us at what seemed to be two minute intervals. Finally they came in to us and started to say something - at which point we told them that we were leaving.
I made a brief comment in the Visitors Book about our experience. I hope it stays there for others to see - I did note that the staff on reception turned the book around to read it as soon as I had finished writing.
To end - a quote from the Museum's own website: "Here at the Museum we are very proud to have something to offer visitors of all ages and we enthusiastically welcome families and groups." Sadly this was not our experience last week - and the volunteers appeared to be lacking in the 'sense of humour' which is all which is apparently required to be one (again from their website'. This is not a place that I'd visit again nor recommend to anyone else.
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