The Gilwell Oak : Scouting rediscovers its roots

Today’s blog has been written by Caroline Pantling, Heritage Service Manager with the Scout Association. Their Heritage Team have recently won the Woodland Trust’s 2017 Tree of the Year competition. 

The Scout Association Heritage Team have used this quirky competition, run by The Woodland Trust, to raise the profile of Gilwell’s historic landscape and Scouting’s fascinating heritage. Having won the public vote to become England’s Tree of the Year the Oak then faced competition from the other home nations and were appointed UK Tree of the Year by a panel of experts and became the UK’s representative for the European Tree of the Year.

The Gilwell Oak has become renowned throughout the world. Scouting’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell used the oak tree as an analogy for the growth of Scouting. He referred to the experimental camp run for 20 boys on Brownsea Island in 1907 as the acorn from which the oak tree of Scouting grew. Today the Gilwell Oak sits at the heart of a Scout Adventure centre which welcomes over 40,000 young people every year.

The Gilwell Oak is located on edge of Gilwell’s Training Ground. The training offered at Gilwell Park was the first of its kind, Scout leaders from around the world attended training at Gilwell. On their return home many set up their own training centres to pass on their learning. In this way the legend of Gilwell spread and the idyllic scene of Scouts taking shelter from the summer sun (or rain) under the branches of the Training Ground’s most iconic tree became well known.

For many Scouts around the world a trip to Gilwell Park is a long held dream, hundreds visit Gilwell each year to pay homage to those who have gone before and to, maybe, collect a leaf and an acorn from its longest standing resident.

Museum Resilience: Where do we go from here?

Today’s blog has been written by David Holgate-Carruthers, a Teaching Museum Trainee with Norfolk Museums Service. David has worked on a range of successful community history projects at the Museum of Norwich since April 2017 and attended the SHARE Conference in Bedford this November.

How do we respond to adversity? In the face of change, who do we want to become? And when so much is being cut back, what do we feel is essential to hold on to?

These were the kinds of questions being asked at this year’s annual SHARE conference. It was hosted in Bedford, split across three amazing heritage sites: The John Bunyan Museum and Free Church, The Panacea Museum, and The Higgins Bedford. They sit together in a rough triangle; a huddle of historic buildings rich with culture and story. Delegates had the opportunity to visit all three. They explored the headquarters of a unique religious community, followed in the footsteps of the author of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and lost themselves in the beautiful collections begun by brewer, politician and local mayor Cecil Higgins during the 1800s.

The Bunyan Church, Bedford

The main event, held in the meeting hall of the Bunyan church, saw delegates gathered to hear speakers from across the museum sector addressing a wide range of topics. It was a busy day with a high turnout, where all of those gathered had a lot to discuss.

Norfolk Museum Service’s Teaching Museum trainees were invited to be a part of running the day, giving us the opportunity to see behind the scenes as we helped to set up and deliver the conference. Our traineeships have given us a very wide scope of experience, but I had never before been involved with the delivery of such a large event. There’s an impressive amount of very careful planning and a whole host of logistical questions that I would have never even thought of. Working with the SHARE team has been an invaluable part of this year, providing me with a lot of working knowledge to carry forwards. Thinking about that point at the end of this traineeship, it’s an interesting time to be setting out into the culture and heritage industry.

It’s no great secret that, all across the country, many services are struggling. Museums are no different and the themes of this year’s conference reflected that. The focus was on change, how to navigate it, and how to ensure resilience.

The Panacea Museum, Bedford

The Museum Association 2017 report writes that ‘64 museums in the UK have closed since 2010 [and that] the majority of closures are the result of reduced public funding’ with a ‘31% real-terms cut in local authority funding since 2010’ for museums in England and a similar story for those in devolved nations.

Against this backdrop, amidst cuts and the politics of austerity, you would be forgiven for imagining that the atmosphere of this conference was bleak, bearing grim tidings. There were certainly plenty of stark, striking statistics, but the voices that filled the hall weren’t despondent.

Speakers told of experiences at both a micro and macro level, where stories of individual responses to challenges stood alongside broader questions of strategy and ambition. The first keynote speaker, Julia Kaufmann, raised the issue of how change requires careful balance between internal and external influences, asking to what extent we try to anticipate change and to what extent any adaptation is reactive. With each successive speaker, we heard interesting, varied takes on the same key question: What should the museums of the future look like?

Megan Dennis, Museums Change Lives

For me, Megan Dennis’ focus on the MA campaign Museums Change Lives was particularly inspiring; at a time when the future seems increasingly uncertain, having an awareness of our past is all the more important for people. Engagement can strengthen bonds and ensure that people feel rooted, and we are in a unique position in museums to have a tangible, positive effect on wellbeing within communities.

It would also be unforgiveable not to mention Bernard Donoghue’s closing keynote speech, exploring the shape of excellence in visitor attractions and reminding us all of the importance of sex, death, gin and chocolate. I came away from the day driven, not defeated, full of ideas and ambition, knowing that resilience doesn’t equal inflexibility. It doesn’t mean hunkering down, or weathering out the storm, but is the strength and tenacity to adapt and to constantly question. If you couldn’t make it to this year’s conference, I’d definitely recommend that you get yourself to the next.

The unforgettable Bernard Donoghue

Unlocking Collections: Hearts, Minds and Digital Directions


Rachel Macfarlane
Project Officer
Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
Tel: 01473 433556 or 01206 506936  Mob: 07961 231642

Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service has been piloting a new way of using museum collections. The “Unlocked” project took 15 objects from the world collections at Ipswich and 15 objects from the Roman archaeology at Colchester and ran with them.  Not literally (don’t panic, conservators!), but by making community connections, linking responses to documentation, and using digital technology – we have explored many new directions.

IPSMG. P.R.1928-75.39 - Duck carvingThe 30 objects include a carved wooden duck, a Roman tile with footprints and a jet bead in the shape of a bear. They are on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and have all featured in social media campaigns, comments, tweets and pin-boards. Each object has sparked discussion and inspired creative activity. Over 2200 people and 32 artists have sculpted, drawn, published, presented, computer programmed, filmed, edited, laughed and performed in response to these 30 objects.

It’s exciting to think how communities have connected, and will continue to connect with museum collections over time. How the documentation of people’s responses to the 30 objects will leave a legacy of today for tomorrow.  How digital technology can act as a tool to document but to also present new ideas.

As the ‘Unlocked’ project enters its final weeks we are reflecting on the learning and experiences of everyone involved, and asking you, if and how this contributes to our development as a sector. Our ‘Unlocking Collections’ seminar will take place at the re-opened Colchester Castle on Thursday 22nd May.  We would encourage you to join the discussion, bring your own challenges, and let’s explore how documentation and digital technology can capture audience responses to collections.

Click here to book for this exciting seminar at Colchester Castle.


_DSC5356The ‘Unlocked’ project team have joined the SHARE East Community Cohort and will be attending the Working With Communities seminar at the Museum of East Anglian Life on Tuesday the 29th April. Working closely with partners at Suffolk County Council the activity between Ipswich Museum and its community groups has been shortlisted for a ‘Raising the Bar’ award, recognising its contribution to improving young people’s aspirations and achievements in Suffolk. In Stowmarket we look forward to hearing colleague’s ideas about how to develop relationships with community groups.

Click here to book for the Community Engagement Seminar on 29th April.

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