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The Horniman nominated for Sainsbury’s Local Charity of the Year

The Horniman Museum and Gardens has been nominated for Charity of the Year in our local Forest Hill branch.

You can now vote for us in store with a token or vote online by visiting Sainsbury’s Local Charity, searching for your local Forest Hill store by postcode and then casting your vote.

Raising funds is key to keeping the Museum and Gardens open and accessible, and our charitable status has helped us to spread knowledge about different people, cultures, creatures and habitats to many people over the years.

The winning charity will receive a year’s worth of fundraising and awareness raising so get your votes in before 26 June!  

Would you like to donate to the Horniman Museum and Gardens? You can give a one off donation or become a member of the Horniman, which comes with a whole host of benefits.

Celebrating Volunteer’s Week 2016 at the Horniman

This year, Volunteers’ Week was actually 12 days long, so we had extra time to celebrate all the amazing things our volunteers do!

We organised lots of exciting events for our volunteers: a tour of the Gardens with our Head of Horticulture, Wes; time in the Animal Walk with our Animal Walk team, Lara and Jo; a tour of our Study Collections Centre with Natasha; discussions about some interesting objects in our stores with Curator, Tom and not forgetting our Celebration Drinks Reception.

Our volunteers also wrote a wonderful range of blog posts – something that’s been so successful that we’d like to make it a permanent monthly fixture. They offer a brilliant insight into how both volunteers and our visitors engage with the museum and are excellent at showing the world what our volunteering team is all about.

Over the last year financial year, 272 volunteers have been involved with the Horniman Museum and Gardens – that’s 15,166 hours of interaction with our visitors and support for our work! Quite rightly, we are incredibly proud of these numbers and of our volunteer team more generally.

Our Head of Learning, Georgina Pope, said: 'As a Learning team, we are constantly thinking about the best ways to create happy and inspiring experiences for our visitors and project participants. Your support as volunteers is invaluable in enabling this - as facilitators on gallery, as programmers, supporting family or community engagement, on evaluation projects, as people who can influence our thinking, and in a myriad other ways. We are both proud and grateful that you are involved in the life of the museum, which simply wouldn’t be the same place without you.'

Our Volunteers make the Horniman the extraordinary, magical and inspiring place that we all know and love – thank you to all of our volunteers for their support, hard work and dedication. Here’s to another fantastic year together!

Travellers' Tails volunteer talks

We recently hosted George Stubbs’ painting of the Kongouro from New Holland, on loan from the National Maritime Museum, part of the Travellers Tails project. This painting is the first representation of a kangaroo in Western Art and whether you think it looks more like a wallaby or an oversized mouse, you can’t help but fall in love with it!

We challenged our volunteers to develop their own short talks about the display to share with our visitors. This was a huge experiment for us, but handing over the curatorial power to our volunteers has proved to be hugely exciting and popular.

What did our volunteers get out of being involved?

John: I focussed my research at the National Archives in Kew, where I found primary sources for my History Master’s degree. I was delighted to find the original sealed letter, given to Captain Cook by the British Admiralty, to claim any discovered territories in the name of King George III. This voyage began Britain’s colonisation of Australia.

Shao Peng: As an art history student, the Horniman Museum has provided me a unique opportunity to act as a mediator between the academic field and the general public. The joy of undertaking this role is to be able to share my interest in the relationship between art and science in the 18th century, knowing that my audiences would walk away having learned something that may change the way they see the world around them!

Connor-Benjamin: Before my Travellers’ Tales talk I knew George Stubbs painted horses. However, Europeans in the 1700s had a romantic fascination with exploration and Captain Cook’s voyage brought to the West an animal that captured public imagination.

Seeta: I believed the kangaroo as portrayed by Stubbs appeared diminutive, lacking the artist’s distinctive flair for power and musculature. While this was understandable, having been painted from inflated skins, I viewed the kangaroo’s disempowerment as a metaphor for colonial subjugation. The painting’s background with English oak on the left and Australian grass gumtree on the right, showed the exotic as tame and assimilated, foreshadowing the subsequent colonisation of Australia.

This is the first time we have involved volunteers in this way and it opens up many exciting possibilities for us:

Georgina, Head of Learning and Volunteering, says 'The talks allowed us to offer a new way for our visitors to understand our collection and a new opportunity for volunteers to be involved. I loved hearing the volunteer’s insights into the display which definitely brought it to life!'

Jo, Keeper of Natural History, says ‘Being a curator can sometimes be a frustrating experience. When you are working on a display, even a relatively small one like Cook and the Kangaroo, you have to carry out a great deal of research behind the scenes. Unfortunately, much of this is never seen or heard by our visitors - a real shame as there’s always so much to say about a subject! The talks by our volunteers, nearly all of whom became curators for the day and carried out lots of original research themselves, provided an excellent opportunity to address this issue, but perhaps more importantly provided scope for others to express their personal thoughts, insights and perspectives not only on one of our most interesting paintings of the enlightenment era but also the scientific, social and cultural context under which it was received at the time and what this might mean today, to a wide range of visitors. Something I would never have a hope of communicating on a text panel in 250 words! Thanks to all the volunteers for all of their enthusiasm, dedication and marvellous talks!’

It may be the end of this project and our kangaroo has hopped back to the National Maritime Museum, but we have all learnt a huge amount and watch this space to see what happens in the future.

Behind the scenes and brilliant bees

Behind the scenes and brilliant bees! One of our Engage volunteers, Shelagh, tells us her top five favourite things about being a Horniman volunteer. 

'I've been an Engage volunteer since April 2012, and besides working in the Nature Base and on the Object Handling Trolley, I have helped out at the Mud Kitchen with the Stroke Group, the craft workshops, and making bug hotels and bird treats with children.

I missed being a volunteer for nearly a year from Autumn 2013 due to cancer treatment and coming back has been an important part of my recovery.

The top five things I’ve learned from volunteering with Engage are:

1. Wonderful BEES!
The live bees are a unique catalyst for conversation and learning with visitors and amongst the volunteers. You can see the queen laying eggs, pollen-laden workers coming in and unloading their 'pancakes' of pollen and stacking them into cells, 'waggle-dancing', workers taking a disc of wax from between their own segments and moulding it on to the comb. When people are gazing in on this miniature world and all its goings-on, they (and we) are in a really opened-up and curious state, and the conversations can go in so many directions: the life of bees and our relationship to them, food, hierarchies, the environment etc. I often wonder what other catalysts for this kind of opened-up conversation we could create.

2. The Horniman is a fantastic community resource.
This needs a whole blog to itself! Not only are the museum and gardens a brilliant green space in SE London, but the Horniman proactively reaches out to the local community in learning and entertainment and attracts a wide diversity of visitors. Over the years my family and I have been frequent visitors to the Horniman for drumming and dance classes, 'Late' events, live music, watercolour and writing workshops and just to hang out in the cafe.

3. The Horniman is good to its volunteers.
When I was looking for voluntary work in spring 2012, I tried several organisations and the Horniman stood out a mile for being organised, friendly, communicative and offering good training before and after starting the work. As volunteers, we are also encouraged to contribute our ideas to enhance visitors' experiences of new exhibitions. The backstage and social events also help to create camaraderie amongst the volunteers.

4. Behind the scenes at the museum.
I was amazed to learn that only a tiny amount of the museum's objects are on display at any one time, and was fascinated by the visit to the collection at the Central Store early on in my time as a volunteer. The Engage Backstage events are a great way to learn more about the collections, their care and origins. Visitors often ask us questions about where the objects come from - in many cases, no one knows where, when or who collected the object. We have also had the chance to see new exhibitions being installed e.g. Plantastic.

5. Back to the bees.
Following my own curiosity about the bees has led me to find out more about them - who knew that they not only communicate information about food sources to each other through the 'waggle dance' but also by vibrating the combs, or that the temperature the larvae are reared at can influence what sex they turn out to be, or that the colony is not organised as a hierarchy with queen or "top bee" in charge? Biologists now believe that the colony can be seen as a "super-organism" i.e. the whole colony is equivalent to a single animal.'

Find out more about becoming an Engage Volunteer.

What does volunteering mean to Michael?

Our volunteers are a creative bunch!

One of our Engage Volunteers Michael has written this poem on what being a Horniman Volunteer means to him for Volunteers Week:


What does being a Horniman volunteer mean?

Being asked ten times a day (at least) “Where is the queen?”


Our beloved bees aren’t the only ones that questions are asked about.

“What’s in here?” “Harvest Mice,” we say, “But they haven’t yet come out.”


There’s our faithful stuffed fox, the Nature Base star, whom children love to hug,

And the microscope to see up close a beetle, wasp or bug.


For exercise, there’s paper to be picked up off the floor,

And it’s always time to sharpen those darned pencils just once more.


Quiet times, busy times, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall,

Ask any volunteer, they’ll tell you - Half-term’s the worst of all.


There’s school groups, art groups, visitors young and old.

From the latter, many Horniman memories of yesteryear I’ve been told.


Friendly staff and visitors, a pleasant working atmosphere,

Are partly the reason I continue on, gladly, year by year.


That, and the friendship of the other volunteers, all trying hard to please,

And the reward of helping children learn-about nature and the wonderful bees!


Michael Viner, 2016


A volunteer's favourite object

Katie’s favourite handling object is the hedgehog.

“The hedgehog is my favourite item because I have never seen one in the wild!" Katie says.

"With numbers declining in recent years due to the use of pesticides which reduce the amount of insects for hedgehogs to eat, and housing development in urban areas, it is unlikely that I will get to see one - though I'll keep my eyes peeled, of course!”

Peter doesn’t seem so sure though! 

What's your favourite object? Tell us or show us on social: @HornimanMuseum / IG: HornimanMuseumGardens.

The Artquest research residency

Artquest in partnership with the Horniman are offering a research residency for one London based artist.

The award includes:

  • £3000 to engage with the work and collections of the museum
  • £850 towards a public facing event showcasing the thinking and research undertaken during the residency
  • Privileged access to museum objects and curators

We are particularly interested in developing relationships with artists who want to engage with people as well as collections. Applicants should consider in particular how their work might engage visitors with the museum’s displayed collection and encourage participation with these displays. Please note the African Worlds gallery and the Centenary gallery will both close in September 2016 for redevelopment until 2018 however this does not mean artists cannot engage with the anthropology collection.

Please note, that this is not a studio residency and applicants are expected to have their own studio / workspace to complete any work.

Find out if you are eligible for the residency and apply on Artquest by 10am on Monday 1 August 2016.

Travellers' tails

Inspired by the Travellers' Tails project, we asked our visitors, 'Where would you like to explore?'

Since March, our Natural History Gallery has been home to the Travellers' Tails display. This display brings together the first European painting of an Australian animal, 'The Kongouro from New Holland' by George Stubbs, alongside the Horniman's taxidermy mount of an Eastern Grey Kangaroo and describes Captain's Cook's first voyage to the Pacific, where he encountered new landscapes, people, plants and animals. 

The Travellers' Tails project is a collaboration between five museums investigating the history of exploration, art and science. It brings together artists, scientists, explorers and museum professionals to investigate the nature of exploration in the Enlightenment era, how the multitude of histories can be explored and experienced in a gallery, heritage and museum setting, and to question what exploration means today.

Inspired by Travellers' Tails, we asked our visitors and our online audience to share their thoughts on exploration. The four questions we asked were: Where would you like to explore? What is left to explore? Exploration is... and My favourite explorer is...

We recieved some interesting answers. Some wanted to explore places they had never been to before. 

Some wanted to travel to hot countries, and some to cold. 

Some people wanted to go back in time to explore earth when the dinosaurs were alive. 

Many people suggested that still left to explore was the deepest oceans and outer space. 

Have you got a burning desire to explore somewhere? Who is your favourite explorer? Tweet us with the hashtag #TravellersTails to share your stories. 

Five Things I’ve Learned Through Volunteering

For Volunteers Week this year, one of our Engage Volunteers, Catherine Miller, tells us her highlights of being an Engage Volunteer and why she keeps coming back to the Horniman: 

It’s been four months since I joined the small group huddled outside the staff entrance to the Horniman, waiting to be let in from the February cold to do our first Engage training session. Since then, I’ve manned the handling trolley, handed out colourful cloaks for Pitchy Patchy and gazed at bees on most Saturdays. It’s not exactly the usual way to spend a weekend - so why do I give up my time? Well, every week on Engage is different, and I’ve learned a lot about the Horniman, its weird and wonderful exhibits and volunteering in general. Here are my top five lessons:

1. Volunteers come from all walks of life. It’s fantastic to work alongside people from all over the world (India, Italy and New Zealand to name but a few) and all sorts of day-jobs. Everyone brings their own unique perspective and it’s also fascinating to find out how and why people got involved in the museum. For some, it’s a chance to sample a heritage career, and for others, it’s a rewarding hobby. Working as part of the Engage team is a great chance to meet new and diverse people.

2. Learning comes in many forms. As a teacher, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in ‘levels of progress’ and exam results, but at the Horniman we see all sorts of people learning in many different ways - from feeling a snake skin for the first time to watching a jellyfish dance around its tank. There’s a moment when a visitor’s eyes light up and you know they’re intrigued by something. That spark makes our work worth it.

3. Each family is unique. During the week I work with teenagers, so interacting with younger children and families has been a fun experience for me. Something that has surprised me is how individual even the smallest visitors can be. Some are shy and wide-eyed, clinging on to their adult’s leg until someone demonstrates that it’s perfectly safe to touch the ostrich egg... others are brimming with knowledge and enthusiasm... and others just want to run around! Then there are the super stylish toddlers in catwalk-ready tutus and dinosaur onesies. Not that I’m jealous…

4. Taxidermy is a talking point - and surprisingly relevant even in today’s world. There’s something quite powerful in being able to view a once-living animal, not just in a virtual space or as a photo but in three dimensions in front of you. Being able to touch an example is even better, hence the delighted reactions to our Chicken Turtle. Taxidermied animals have also sparked off some interesting conversations about life and death with younger visitors, for whom the concept of preserving a body can raise many questions.

5. Bees are endlessly fascinating. I've learned lots of bits and bobs about all the objects on the handling trolley and some of the museum's other exhibits, but I have to say the bees are one of my favourite things. I can stand and stare at the Horniman’s hive for hours, watching the workers bustle to and fro or trying to spot the elusive queen. It was amazing to see the change in their behaviour from winter to spring as the group woke up from their slumber and began to collect pollen in earnest. I’ve been inspired to find out more about them and even read a fantastic novel, Laline Paull’s ‘The Bees’. I’ll never look at a common honeybee the same way!

Volunteering at the Horniman has given me such a valuable insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ workings of a museum, and allowed me to meet a wide range of interesting people, from staff to visitors to my fellow volunteers.

I hope to learn more as my volunteering journey continues!

Bobby wins Volunteer of the Year

Today marks the start of Volunteer Week (1-12 June) and we’re extremely pleased to announce that Bobby Ogogo, one of our youth supported volunteers, has won Volunteer of the Year at this year’s Museum + Heritage Awards. Congratulations Bobby!

From 2015, Bobby has been working closely with the Learning and Volunteering Team to help us develop an accessible route into volunteering for those with additional needs. During his time with us, Bobby has had a hugely positive impact whilst volunteering each week on our object handling trolley alongside our brilliant Engage volunteers, and his contribution to the Horniman and the team was recognised at the Awards, alongside Group Volunteers Award winners, the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum volunteers. 

It goes without saying that this award is a wonderful acknowledgement of all that Bobby brings to the Horniman – enthusiasm, commitment and an unwavering smile to name a few – and we are extremely proud!

Here’s a bit from Bobby about his experience:

How did it feel to win the award?

It was good to win! I didn’t expect it at all. I thought I wasn’t going to get it. I felt excited – it felt special. I enjoyed my mum and her partner coming. We haven’t been to any awards like this – it was the first time I’ve won such a big award!

Doing my speech was amazing – it was so nice for everyone to listen to it. Was I nervous? Me? Nervous? No way!

What do you like about volunteering at the museum?

Volunteering is good – I like working with different people and children who visit the museum. I talk to them and ask questions and they can touch and feel the museum objects which is great!

I choose different objects to work with when I volunteer. Today I worked with the zebra skin – I’ve never felt one before. It was rough!

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