Wirral through the Ages: pop-up museum

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Wirral through the Ages was a Big Heritage initiative running from mid-February until 30th March 2014 at the Pyramid Shopping Centre in Birkenhead. The project was organised on behalf of Jones Lang LaSalle as a means of highlighting the history of the local area, whilst showcasing the new rebranding of the Pyramid Shopping Centre, which is the largest centre in Wirral.

Big Heritage utilised an empty shop unit within the shopping centre to showcase previously unseen archaeological finds which were loaned to the project by National Museums Liverpool and the Grosvenor Museum, Chester. The finds stretched back through 8000 years of Wirral’s history and complimented three changing themes that saw the shop change from a Roman hospital to a Viking longhouse through to a First World War trench.

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The project created a number of heritage outputs, primarily in audience engagement with seven school groups visiting, including SEN schools, visits from local history groups and walk-in shopping centre visitors. Over 18 days the museums drew in 6500 visitors and generated a PR Value of  approximately £75,000 (independent estimate from Caidog Communications).

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School groups had the chance to join the Roman army, learn about medicine through time and take a look at the many fascinating objects found on their own doorstep.

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The project had clear social impacts. The hands-on and stimulating approach appealed to children with learning difficulties and their parents, ensuring an inclusive learning experience that is often missing from some heritage sites and attractions. Most significantly, many of the maps and objects acted as a mnemonic for older people to talk about their own past, and their own connection to the places that were visible on the map. Often this included talking about playing on certain fields or remembering buildings that are now demolished but were visible on the maps. This was evidenced by many older individuals making multiple visits with many visiting every day the exhibition was open. The wider health benefits of reminiscence activities within a heritage setting are now well understood, with dementia patients across the UK benefiting from such activities. The recent House of Memories project at Museum of Liverpool provides perhaps the strongest example of this nationally, and Big Heritage staff undertook the training offered on this program prior to the creation of the Wirral Through the Ages project.

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The WW1 theme proved a hit with older local residents as many had personal connections to the war.

Beyond dementia, it was noted by visiting staff of Age UK Wirral that the project provided an ideal foil to their efforts to improve social isolation amongst older men in Wirral. There are a wide range of activities designed to reduce isolation in elderly women, but men are notoriously less likely to engage in formally organised activities. Our project themes (particularly the First World War) resonated strongly with older men, and provides a casestudy in utilising social history as a means of tackling social isolation and health issues associated with it including depression, alcoholism and higher rates of suicide.  To read a case study please follow the link: Engagement Case Study - Wirral through the Ages

Wirral through the ages also provided research outputs. For example the Overchurch runic stone is a fragment of a once much-larger sarcophagus or shrine and its runic inscription dates in the beginning of the 9th century. Despite its significance, there is a general lack of awareness of the stone amongst Wirral residents. The stone therefore represented an ideal focal point for the window display for the exhibition alongside an experimental reconstruction in 1:1 scale of what the stone may have originally looked like. This involved new original research from Big Heritage team member Joanne Kirton, an expert in Early Medieval sculpture in Cheshire. To learn more about the process of reconstructing the stone follow the link:

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