Zoe Carmichael, community learning

 26 March 2013

Community Learning Officer, Zoe Carmichael, plans community programmes for families and young people at the Horniman Museum. She gives three ways to help you get involved in community learning.

Interesting and cultural objects capture the imagination of children and adults, and help to make learning fun. Image: The Horniman Museum,
Interesting and cultural objects capture the imagination of children and adults, and help to make learning fun. Image: The Horniman Museum,

What is your home town?

Ballymema in Northern Ireland is my home town, but I live in Stockwell in London.

What is your job?

I am a Community Learning Officer at the Horniman Museum. This means that I programme activities for families and young people, to do in the museum. 

What are your qualifications?

I did a degree in History and Sociology at Brunel University, which I completed as a full-time course.

What previous roles did you do?

I did lots of short-term jobs when I was studying and living in London. These included waitressing, working in a ceramics workshop and working in a factory.

I volunteered in Northern Ireland, working in an Oxfam shop and setting up a community centre for young and isolated refugees. In London, I volunteered with Envision, where I went to schools and helped teenagers plan social community projects. 

"It's my job to help families and young people have a good time in the museum."

These volunteer experiences gave me the opportunity to work with different communities, to help people learn and grow.

My first museum position was at the Cabinet War Rooms in the Visitor Services team. I helped the Education team and worked with the children’s activities.

My next role was at the Science Museum, where I worked as an Explainer in the interactive galleries for a year. Explainers work with school and family audiences to make science lessons fun, using interactive exhibitions, demonstrations and science shows.

Here, I also worked with the Outreach team on the Creative Canal Project. I visited people in their schools, organised visits to the museum and took groups on a trip on the Beauchamp Lodge – a floating classroom. It was a fun way to learn about the Regent's Canal and do science experiments – and very memorable!

What do you in your job?

The largest part of my job is creating activity programmes for museum visitors. My job involves planning the programme of activities for every quarter of the year. Some activites are aimed at families, so these take place over the weekends and holidays. These activities include:

  • Object handling
  • Outdoor learning
  • Nature activities
  • Arts and crafts
  • Storytelling
  • Music and dance performances
  • Theatre performances.

I also research, create and evaluate learning workshops. These can include:

  • Under five storytelling
  • Nature explorer sessions
  • Self-guided learning resources.

I work with different departments in the museum, like planning public events with the Curatorial or Conservation team, working with the Health and Safety Committee or helping Collections Management handle collection objects. I have also helped to recruit and train freelancers and volunteers for the museum.

What’s the best part of your job?

I enjoy creating and running activities for young people. The early years audience is great to work with – they love exploring the museum and gardens! It's a good feeling when you see people learning through your activities.

At the Horniman Museum, we get families coming back regularly, so it is nice getting to know them. 

Also, coming into contact with amazing objects everyday is a real privilege!

What’s the worst part of your job?

It gets very busy during the holiday periods – this can be tiring and stressful, especially during larger events.

How do I enter into heritage?

In heritage, there's a job for everyone. Three pieces of advice are to:

1. Study relevant qualifications

This will give you foundational knowledge and a broad understanding of different areas.

Relevant qualifications could mean doing courses in history and education, or certificates in working with children. 

2. Get experience in different jobs

Volunteer and work at museums, heritage houses and heritage sites to show you have an interest in heritage and you are committed to this industry.  

You should also keep up with the latest news so you know what's going on. Good websites to visit are Gem and Culture 24, which give you more information on heritage learning.

3. Be patient.

When working with different audiences, it is important to be patient, flexible and understand their point of view.

Good communication and enthusiasm with colleagues and visitors is extremely important. Above all, keep a good sense of humour, as this will help you through all situations.

Why is heritage important?

"Coming into contact with amazing objects everyday is a real privilege!"

Museum and heritage collections should be for everyone. Everyone can have a good experience when they come to a museum.

It's my job to help families and young people have a good time in the museum.

The Horniman Museum has a wide collection range and visitors can see items from anthropology to natural history. Along with the beautiful gardens and aquarium, there is something here for everyone.

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