A Q & A with… Nicolas Vanderpeet from the IWM

Date Posted: 11/07/2014

Nicolas Vanderpeet, formal learning manager at the London sites of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) reveals the exciting developments taking place in 2014, including the opening of its new First World War galleries in July.

The IWM as an institution was founded in 1917 when proposals for a National War Memorial were accepted by the War Cabinet. Its family of museums include IWM North in Salford, IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, plus three London sites - HMS Belfast, the Churchill War Rooms and IWM London.Nicholas Vanderpeet

Each offers engaging and diverse educational sessions, and this year IWM London unveils its new First World War galleries as part of the wider WWI Centenary programme.

Q: How long has there been an education department and what do you do?

A: Learning has always been a key part of the work of IWM, and there has been a department focussing on education and learning since 1970. We are now known as the Learning Department which is part of the Public Programmes Division of the museum.

My job title is formal learning manager London branches, and the role involves managing the learning programme for schools and other groups such as universities and trainee teachers. The programme focuses mainly upon the delivery of learning sessions at the three London sites and includes focussed work such as developing digital resources.

Q: How many school trips do you host each year?

A: IWM London, the main site at Lambeth Road had 72,000 school visitors in 2009/10*, amounting to approximately 1,800 groups. Churchill War Rooms hosted 11,812 school visitors, 300 groups; and HMS Belfast received 810 groups totalling 32,400 students and teachers.

Q: What does your educational programme cover?

A: Our programme uses the collections of the museum and the sites themselves to provide for and to encourage studies and understanding of the history of modern war and ‘wartime experience’.

At the London branches a wide range of aspects of World Wars One and Two are covered as are the life and times of Winston Churchill plus life on board Royal Navy ships. We also have a large and well subscribed to holocaust learning service.

Q: Is it all about wartime history?

A: It is the experience of people in the context of war. Our learning sessions focus on the experience of actual people and we use their stories so we don’t have to try and imagine what being involved in war is like, something we could never successfully do.

Q: How has your educational offer changed over the years?

A: Our offer caters for more than History students and teachers now than it has in the past.
We can support learning in History, English, Citizenship, Religious Education, Media Studies and Art. The latter is an audience we are keen to develop as we have the second largest collection of modern British art after the Tate.

Q: What’s new for 2014?

A: With the new First World War galleries at IWM London come new sessions. We have one exploring how the war was represented in film, art and poetry. Another looks at the war beyond the Western Front, these having developed from film projects we have done with local schools on topics such as the War in Africa and the Indian Army.

On HMS Belfast we’ve recently launched a D-Day session looking at the roles of individuals to coincide with the 70th anniversary in 2014.

Q: How do you help teachers prepare for visits?

A: Our website is the main resource for teachers when they are preparing to visit us. Session information, booking forms and resources that could be used as pre or post-visit lessons are all available there.

We also offer free ‘recce’ visits for teachers if they want to have a look around before they bring groups. We encourage this as it helps with writing risk assessments and the logistics of the visit.

Q: What makes a great educational visit?

A: Logistical planning aside, the best trips are the ones that you see in the galleries where the students are talking about what they are seeing and experiencing. The learners feel comfortable in the museum and feel free to engage with the collections and each other, not feeling that they are intruding or in the galleries under sufferance.

One example I use a lot is of students lying on the floor drawing and feeling comfortable enough to do so in a space not traditionally known for people reclining. The museum staff ensure they are not a hazard to others or themselves!

*These figures are from 2009/10 which was the last year of all three sites were fully operational. HMS Belfast was closed for repairs to the ship's walkway and the main building at Lambeth Road has been either partially open or fully closed for the regeneration of the museum in time for the centenary of the First World War.

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