Another amazing publication from Forestry and Land Scotland that I had the great joy of researching. Working with Alex Leonard I was able to pull together a lot more evidence of how people dressed and the personal possessions they may have had because much more evidence survives from the Iron Age than the Neolithic and Mesolithic.
This book was such a joy to research and write for. Once again I worked with artist Alex Leonard to develop authentic characters from Scotland’s Mesolithic. I looked for evidence of materials that would have been available and examples of them having been used in other cultures to counter the idea that hunter-gatherers would just have worn fur. Sealskin, fishskin, birdskins and even some woven or netted fabrics were featured. The character’s appearance is also informed by genetic studies of Mesolithic human remains from Europe which consistently reveals people had dark skin tones and dark hair, but often with pale eye colours.
The activities in this book include wonderful storytelling and map-making activities. Imagine living in a world with no maps, no roads, no signposts, no sat nav. We know that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers moved around, but how did they know where to go? How would they give instructions to each other?
The book also explores the different environments available to support small groups in Scotland, from forest to coastline, mountain to lowland. It’s free to download a PDF from the Forestry and Land Scotland.
Having a combination of archaeological and historical knowledge is really useful for the primary history curriculum in England, as most of the topics are understand through one or both. I’ve been lucky to provide historical and educational consultancy for the development of animated videos or games for BBC Bitesize on the following topics:
I don’t want to use the J word, but I have been deleting old emails recently and it reminded me about the way my freelancing career has developed over the years.
At first it all started as an extra to full time work. I left English Heritage to work at the London Borough of Camden on a Heritage Lottery Funded project, but I was keen to continue to do something in association with the Charles Darwin Trust and, as it turned out, they wanted that too so I started to do some writing and teaching work with them. During the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year since the publication of Origin, 2009, I was very busy with work for them as well as work for Camden. It quietened down a little in 2010, and then got quieter still after that, and I had a new baby which also reduced the amount I could do.
I eventually moved from the London Borough of Camden to another employed role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and freelancing went by the wayside. After the maternity cover contract ended I decided to go it on my own. The costs of childcare while working full-time were too onerous and I wanted to spend more time with my little one. At first I trained to be a childminder and managed three months of this. Childminding is not an easy job, let me tell you. I was more tired doing that than any other job I have had, and I have worked as a field archaeologist, in the catering industry and now visit schools to do days of teaching, all of which are tiring but not like childminding. So I looked for other things.
All of a sudden, I found things. I had experience of writing for teachers through English Heritage and the National Museums Online Learning Project so a friend introduced me to a friend who had set up a business called Plan Bee. She needed a history specialist to write lesson plans and resources for the new curriculum so I took that on, writing lesson plans on the Prehistory of Britain, the Shang Dynasty of China, and the Kingdom of Benin, for instance. With this experience under my belt I approached the Hamilton Trust, on the advice of another friend, and said I could write their Prehistory of Britain topic. I found the Hamilton Trust work much more in depth and I still write for them, just recently having finished a recap of all British history for a post-SATS topic for Year 6s.
At the same time I had applied for two local jobs. One was as a secretary for my village’s Neighbourhood Plan at £10 an hour and this lasted for over a year with me working mainly in the evenings. I also applied to be a workshop leader at the Chiltern Open Air Museum and I work there still on a zero-hours contract mainly teaching schools but also families and home ed groups. I also volunteered for Kids in Museums and an opportunity came along to take over organising their workshops on working with families and young people.
I set up Schools Prehistory in order to get information out to teachers for the new topic in primary history, as it is my specialist subject, and I think on the back of that was approached by a contact from the British Museum (which was part of the National Museums Online Learning Project that I had written for) to apply for a job as a writer on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website that the DoE had funded to support the new history curriculum across Key Stages. I wrote about lots of objects for them from Late Bronze Age logboats from Must Farm to a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence from 1957.
I also started marketing myself as a time travelling visitor with Schools Prehistory to schools and still visit schools across the south-east and midlands as a Stone Age, Roman, Saxon of Viking woman or as an archaeologist, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes on my own. I had difficulty in selling lesson plans through my own website so now they can be downloaded if teachers sign up to my newsletter.
As a time traveller, and for the purpose of developing a Mesolithic workshop at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, I developed some bushcraft skills and so my latest venture has been to set up 500 BC. I asked the Forestry Commission, who look after Wendover Woods near me, whether I could work on their site and duly applied for a licence to do so and now run toddler groups, home ed courses, family and adult bushcraft days, holiday clubs, school visits and team-building workshops. I am expanding to other sites and to sub-contracting.
I have also tendered for shorter freelance contracts conducting market research with families, or devising and piloting schools workshops but have not had much luck with those. Where I have been successful it’s usually through recommendations and word of mouth.
This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory post. I wanted to show how I built my freelancing portfolio, which is a little unusual, but has all the elements of how to be successful at freelancing whatever field you’re in.
- Network. Having a good network that you stay in contact with via social media and attending sector events is essential.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people cold. Before you do this you have to do your research and be sure that they want something only you can offer.
- Create your own opportunities if you can – apply for funding, see a need in the market you can fulfill.
- Collaborate. Find like-minded people you can sub-contract to (you’ll need employer’s insurance) or pass work to, and they will hopefully pass some back.
- Try to have a couple of relationships that bring in a regular income and supplement them with shorter contracts. Then when you need to find the next job, you still have a little work and money to tide you over (I can’t say I’m very good at saving!)
- Be flexible. Not everything you will end up doing is going to totally rock your world. As you get more confident and busier, you will be able to say ‘No thanks’ to those contracts that don’t totally float your boat.
- I hate saying this, because it’s not something I love doing, but you will need a brand. Either that’s your name or a trading name that will represent you. As you can see, I have a couple of different ones for different strands of my work.
- If something doesn’t work, learn from it and move on.
- Keep at it!
Following interesting discussions on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues from the archaeology sector about the perceived leaky pipeline for women (i.e. lots of women studying archaeology at university – not so many in management positions in the profession) I decided to look at the publicly available data covering the gender pay gap. Organisations that employ 250 people and more are obliged to publish data on pay for men and women employees under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 which came into force on 6th April 2017.
This obliges these larger organisations to publish the difference between the mean and the median hourly rate of “male full-pay relevant employees and that of female full-pay relevant employees”. It also requires them to publish the proportions of male and female full-pay employees in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and top quartile pay bands. What the intention is to see whether men and women are paid the same rate for the same work, and whether women are represented in the upper pay bands at the same proportion as men. A “full-pay employee” does not mean a full-time employee but “a relevant employee who is not, during the relevant pay period, being paid at a reduced rate or nil as a result of the employee being on leave”. Overtime is not included. Bonuses are reportable, but are not included here as they are not routinely used in this sector.
There are three commercial archaeology companies who would qualify (according to the Institute for Archaeologist’s Yearbook detailing numbers of employees in 2017), Oxford Archaeology (OA), Wessex Archaeology and Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA). I could only find the gender pay reports for the first two. MoLA may have reported as part of an umbrella organisation, I guess.
I also decided, as I work in museums and heritage myself, to see if I could find other organisations who had reported. I found the British Museum (BM), National Maritime Museum (NMM), the National Gallery (NG), the National Trust (NT), the National Archives, and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
The first table below shows a comparison between all of these organisations in where women’s pay sits above or below the mean and median hourly rate in 2017.
The national average gender pay gap in median hourly rate was 9.1% in 2017. The National Trust and National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery therefore have a greater gender pay gap than the national average, whereas all the other organisations do not.
Now let’s look at the percentage of women in each quartile of pay bands in each of these organisations.
This is really revealing, as in the museums (BM, NMM) and galleries (NG, NPG) and the National Trust, women outnumber men at all pay levels. You will not that in many of these organisations there is a tail-off so that the percentage of women at upper levels is lower than those in the least well paid quartiles. The British Museum is slightly different, in that it is only in the lowest quartile that women and men are virtually even, and then the percentage of women is higher in each of the higher pay quartiles. The National Archives is also an interesting case where women outnumber men in the middling pay quartiles but not at the bottom or top.
And then we get to the archaeology companies (OA and Wessex). From virtually even numbers of men and women at the lowest pay quartile the numbers of women drop off alarmingly in the upper pay quartiles, arguably the ones that don’t entail working in the field as much. Oxford Archaeology, in it’s report on its own website, has committed to determining what the barriers to progression for women are. Interestingly, of course, OA’s CEO is a woman, Gill Hey. Chris Brayne of Wessex Archaeology has also published some objectives for his company to combat the lack of women in upper pay grades.
What are your thoughts? Do you have experiences to share in either archaeology, museums, galleries or heritage? Are things moving forward?
St John the Baptist Church, Little Missenden
I was lucky enough to be put in touch with the team at St John the Baptist church in Little Missenden in the Chilterns who were putting in a stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the conservation and interpretation of their impressive set of medieval wall paintings this autumn.
Little Missenden is a pretty little village that is most famous for being the set of the Vicar of Dibley and Midsomer Murders. It was on the main road from London to Aylesbury but the village has since been bypassed and now nestles in some obscurity alongside the A413 north of Amersham and south of Great Missenden (of Roald Dahl fame).
Phase plan of the church
The village was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and the parish church is even older than that, with the central build dating back to between AD 950 and 1000, firmly in the late Anglo-Saxon period. The build does incorporate some Roman brick, suggesting a villa was nearby. The Chilterns was certainly a popular place for Roman villas, with examples known at Latimer, Mantles Green Meadow in Amersham, Hambleden, Yewden and Bledlow in Buckinghamshire alone.
St Christopher and St Catherine
But what is even more amazing about St John the Baptist church are the wall paintings that date variously from the 12th to 17th centuries. The most striking painting is a larger than life size St Christopher with the infant Jesus on his shoulder. This painting is directly opposite the door as you come in, a deliberate placing for travellers to genuflect to while passing the open door of the church. Around him is the story of St Catherine told in cartoon form.
Some members of the congregation have got together to write a bid for funding to help conserve the paintings and promote them to the public more widely, and I was asked to help develop their ideas for involving schools, families and young people. I very much hope the church gets the money as the paintings are amazing and should be shared more widely. They are devising a very innovative lighting scheme that will be accessed via smartphone technology so any visitor will be able to light up the part of the church they want to see more clearly. There will also be activities for schools and families to engage more meaningfully with the extraordinary paintings and the story of the church.
Good luck Little Missenden church!
The new Key Stage 2 curriculum has brought in various new topics, including teaching evolution in Year 6 science. Previous to this primary school biology had included variation and adaptation, the cornerstones of evolution, but not explicitly required teachers to teach Darwin’s theory. The non-statutory guidance also mentions learning about famous figures in the history of evolutionary biology including Mary Anning and Alfred Russell Wallace alongside Darwin himself.
A colleague, Ewa Prokop who is Mad About Charles Darwin (literally), wrote a children’s book about Darwin and his work (Darwin’s Wild Pursuits), exploring some of the aspects of evolution through imagined conversations he has with creatures he meets on his perambulations in the countryside around his home in Kent, Down House, where he spent the last 40 years of his life. I particularly like the last story about the orb-weaving spider who tells Darwin that one of her sisters on suffering an accident that meant she could no longer make a web learned how to hunt on the ground instead. I’m quite fond of spidery tales.
Ewa put together a plan to run some teacher training on evolution in Yeovil Country Park, a wonderful setting, with their rangers. I went and co-delivered that recently. Along with Ewa’s book, a precis of Darwin’s life and work (which is often misunderstood) and the steps in his theory of evolution I demonstrated a number of possible activities teachers could do with children that Darwin himself did. I was pleased to note that several of the teachers had come across the blocks I wrote on Darwin and Anning for the Hamilton Trust.
The Charles Darwin Trust, one of the organisations whose umbrella I work under, identified certain ways of working that were typical to Darwin, though not confined to him, including using everyday materials to conduct simple experiments; talking to many other people, not just scientists, about their particular expertise; and close, frequent and sustained observation of certain habitats. His method is quite accessible to primary aged children.
Experiments included wrapping unopened flower buds with kitchen muslin (with quite an open weave) to see what effect preventing insects visiting will have on the flower; taking pond mud and seeing what grows from it; and feeding carnivorous plants toenails and hair. Another simple experiment involved eating several ‘purple ones’ from a certain chocolate box (I suffer for my work, I really do!) and using the cellophane wrapper to simulate the ultraviolet eyesight of bees. If you hold them up against certain flowers (we tried celandine and wood anemone) you can see the darker markings that are not otherwise visible to our eyes that guide bees towards the nectar. Work by a team at the University of Arizona have found that this reduces the amount of nectar robbing that bumblebees undertake and so is a very successful strategy for flowering plants. This demonstrated, in a very Darwinian way, that there has been work on evolution since Darwin. This is especially important because the guidance in the national curriculum suggests not mentioning genetics.
The rangers also showed how teachers can very simply sample the environment at Yeovil Country Park with sweeping nets, tree beating and pond dipping so that children can get closer to nature, observe the animals and plants around them and start to make their own observations.
For the past two years I have had the great privilege to manage the workshop programme for Kids in Museums, sourcing venues who will host us, researching and inviting speakers and developing new themes for the workshops. I ran my last one last week at the Science Museum on Welcoming Families with Autism in museums and galleries. Kids in Museums is now reviewing the workshop programme. Back when the workshops started in 2010 they were the only ones of their kind in the museum sector, and it is testament to their success that many other organisations now run workshops on how to work with families, Early Years audiences and young people.
The highlights of my stint have been the personal stories of what a difference access to the arts and culture have made to people. There was Gloria at the London Transport Museum who had first arrived as a young volunteer and had gone on to be a consultant to other museums about how to welcome young people into culture. There was Sally who had not done well at school but with the help of Arts Award had managed to get into university and was also running the Arts Award Youth Network. Most recently there was Jack, a young man on the autistic spectrum, who spoke with pride about his volunteering at Dorchester Museum to help local youth clubs rediscover their history.
The best bits were always hearing from actual children, young people and parents about what museums can do to be more accessible, more welcoming and more inclusive. The young tour guides at the Wallace Museum were articulate, professional and funny. Kids in Museums has a dedicated group of families that go undercover to judge the shortlisted entrants to the Family Friendly Museum Award and it was great to hear directly from them at the workshops. Vyki Sparkes, who also blogs at Museum Mum, was one of those who came to a couple of our workshops, bringing her youngest along with her at one point. Another parent museum blogger who likes to remain anonymous, Tincture of Museum, spoke very passionately at the recent Welcoming families with autism workshop about the small things that museums can do to help families affected by ASD, like pointing out when a lift might be using time travel sound effects.
It was always refreshing to introduce some culture into the day, as well, to remind us all why we do the jobs we do. Aisling Fahey, the Young Poet Laureate for London for 2014-15, performed some of her poetry for us at the Learning together workshop at the Barbican, and a Barbican Young Poet named Amina Jama did the same at our Youth Panel workshop at White Cube. Martin Daws, the Young People’s Laureate for Wales got us all involved in performance at our Teen Workshop at Cardiff Story. Miaomiao Yu of Bach to Baby played (Mozart) for us in the Foundling Museum, a very moving experience.
We heard plenty of research, too, with presentations by Abigail Hackett of Sheffield University about her doctoral research into how toddlers experience museums on repeated visits, from Caspar Addyman of Birkbeck’s Baby Laughter project and from Eirwen Hopkins and Iona Towler-Evans of the Choice Project at Swansea University that used the commission model to engage young people at risk of being NEET (not in education, employment or training) with their local heritage.
The last, and most important thing to say about the workshops, was what an amazing team of people worked on them. Catherine Townsend and Mikaela Webb both did amazing jobs of liaising with venues and caterers, and pushing the marketing out to new channels. The volunteers who support the workshops, like Jane Allnut, Tempe Nell, Rachel Job, Jack Shoulder, and many, many more all do a fabulous job and go the extra mile to make sure that the days always run smoothly. My heartfelt thanks goes out to them for making my job pretty easy.