Taking over Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

Arts Award Voice sent me off to Weald & Downland Open Air Museum on the 16th November to see what they got up to on their #TakeoverDay

On the 16th November 2016, I took a scenic trip to Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in the little village of Singleton about 20 minutes outside of Chichester. If you don't know Weald & Downland it is bigger than Singleton itself spreading across a 40-acre site. It has 50 historic buildings across the site, which have been rescued and brought here to tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in them over a 950-year period. It's a quiet, picturesque venue, which is wonderful to walk through in the bright autumnal weather we had.

When I arrived at 10am things were already beginning. I sat waiting in the shop as the excitable children arrived for a morning of hard but fun work. The first thing their guide told them was to lie on the floor. An odd request but on a day as chilly as this they welcomed the under floor heating they discovered. The only heating they will find all day.

As I waited for my guide I watched as the kids working in the shop got stuck in straight away, laying out stock, learning what is hidden behind the counter and getting to know their office for the morning, It was like watching a military operation take place as they all began to unload boxes of bread and set up the entrance.

The Takeover Coordinators (and my information points for the day) turned up to take me through all the information I needed to know and brief me on what was going on. Two girls from Singleton Primary & two more from West Dean Primary along with museum staff member, Natasha, made sure I was all set for the day before I sat down for a quick chat to find out what they were most looking forward to.

'I am looking forward to making sure everyone is okay, looking after them and answering questions'

All four were very excited to take charge for a day. Two of the girls had been voted in whereas the other two had been selected by the teachers to take on the role. They all had helped prior to the day to select the job roles for their fellow students.

After getting my briefing from the team, I was left to wander round finding my next adventure. I decided to follow my nose. A smell of cooking led me into a small cottage where two young girls were baking drop scones. Dressed in traditional Tudor attire, they stirred their mixture together as they told me how excited they were about the day and how much they were learning about traditional Tudor baking.

I ventured back out and found some young gardeners on their way to one of the 6 gardens the staff looks after. As we walked we talked about their job for the day, they told me about how much they loved the museum and how they enjoyed seeing it from the staff's point of view. When we reached the garden they went to pick pears for the cooks as I chatted to their member of staff for the day, Lynn. Lynn was just as excited about the day, telling me how great it was to have new recruits for the day. In it's third year at this particular museum, she told me how it was great to have a new group of children to teach and how it helped them truly interact with the museum. They got to learn about jobs they didn't even know they could do.

I left the gardeners prepping their findings before sending them off to the kitchen team and continued on my journey up to Pendean House where I found the Building Collections team measuring and drawing different items in the building. The two girls took in turn to write down measurements and leave a sketch to help remember which item they measured up.

On my way back down I bumped into the continually smiley Takeover Coordinator team who checked my morning was going okay, I was getting everything I needed and recommended my next stop should be the Blacksmiths.

The Blacksmiths had me under a bit of a trance as I stood and listened to the blacksmith teach his newest recruits about what Blacksmiths did, what they would be making and how it worked. I ended up chatting to the teachers who enjoyed telling me how their connection with the museum meant they had been able to take the pupils on a few trips and this had encouraged the pupils to take their parents and explore the place for themselves. They joked about having takeover day once a week as it gave the children an opportunity to learn about not only history but gave them a little experience of work outside the classroom.

After seeing the finished product of an incredible snail I walked back up to go close up the morning. The morning had gone so fast but when I started chatting to the children they had achieved so much and really enjoyed taking on some responsibility at the museum. They learnt things about the museum that they had never known or realized before. One team I hadn't managed to visit was the marketing team who like me had been running round taking photos and then answering emails in the office.

The students were then asked 'What did you enjoy most?'. Some of my favourite responses were:

  • -Seeing the different artifacts
  • -Making Poseys with the herbs
  • -Speaking to the boss (of the museum)
  • -Using the price guns
  • -Using Walkie Talkies
  • -Walking round the museum and being in charge
  • -I enjoyed everything

All though some seem funnier than others all mean something to those involved. They got a chance to take over their museum and be a part of something important.

Once the kids had packed up, said goodbye and started the journey back to their school I stopped to reflect on the morning. For two hours the museum had been injected with excitement, energy and enthusiasm. The staff were smiling from ear to ear as they taught and worked alongside children who were willing to learn and ready to get stuck in. All in all I would say a successful takeover!


Elspeth Barron

Elspeth Barron

Elspeth started in the Arts Industry as part of a Creative Apprenticeship scheme. She is Learning, Education & Participation Officer at Chichester Festival Theatre after working 3 & 1/2 years in various positions at Artswork. During her year she also became a trained Arts Award Adviser for Discover to Silver and started her own Silver award whilst also running an Arts Award project for young girls with low self-esteem.

She volunteered as a 16- 25 Ambassador and Youth Theatre Assistant for Chichester Festival Theatre for 2 years after spending 6 years in the Youth Theatre herself. She recently was asked to be part of a panel with Lenny Henry talking about routes into the industry. She has also recently become Trustee of Making Space, a local crafts organisation.

Elspeth has been involved in the arts from a young age performing in many school and semi-professional productions and founding a drama workshop group for primary school children. She was also given the opportunity to become a founding member of a small events company, MADD Productions. This is where she found her passion for community arts and decided to pursue a career in the arts sector.

Elspeth is currently using her spare time to write a play with her younger brother and has started her own weekly vlog, ‘To My Future Self’ on her YouTube channel ElspethRebecca.


She loves good coffee, spending time with friends, playing her ukulele and watching lots of theatre!

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  • Diana Walton

    On 18 November 2016, 20:02 Diana Walton Voice Team commented:

    This sounds such fun! Just what a Takeover Day should be...Lovely account of it, Elspeth

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