Discovering The Lost Museum

Learn about a fantastic heritage project by Reading's Dee Park community

The Lost Museum logo.

At The MERL, we are delighted to work on creative projects and displays in collaboration with a number of community partners from Reading and further afield. If you visit the Museum at the moment, you will find one such display in The Nook: a community case entitled The Lost Museum, created by the community of Reading’s Dee Park Estate.

In this new blog, Lisa-Marie Gibbs, and the curators of The Lost Museum, describe the work and vision behhind this fantastic project with the Dee Park community.

The Lost Museum was founded by The Engine Room, an arts and mental health project based in Reading.

We sought to work with the community of Reading’s Dee Park Estate to help create a museum that would enable the community to take ownership of their stories and remember their own pasts and the pasts of family and their community. In the midst of a regeneration, The Lost Museum would be a space that would hold and remember stories of people, community and place. A significant part of the project would involve supporting people on Dee Park facing mental health challenges, and looking to heritage and the arts as a way for the community to share and record their stories and gain new skills. The project received funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in December 2018.

A Lost Museum workshop with members of the Dee Park community.
A Lost Museum workshop with members of the Dee Park community.

In partnership with the team at The MERL, we created a Lost Museum training programme for volunteers wishing to be involved. Workshops were held both at Dee Park Community Centre and at The MERL, where our volunteers learned how to care for, display and interpret museum objects and stories. The MERL’s own redevelopment in 2016 was used as inspiration for the many different ways in which displays can be developed, and heritage and stories gathered and shared. We also had the enormous privilege of learning from a brilliant team of journalists, photographers, writers and sound artists, who have been a constant source of support for everyone involved!

I loved the experience of working with The MERL, learning to archive, listen to, and learn to record people’s stories. Then actually going out onto my estate where I live and collect those stories has been great. I have learnt to laugh again and these last years as part of The Lost Museum has connected me with people and skills I thought I had lost.

– SM (trainee of The Lost Museum)

An underpass display created by The Lost Museum.
An underpass display created by The Lost Museum.

Then, throughout the year, we ran a series of Lost Museum workshops in the community, engaging over 500 people in the Dee Park community of all ages, from our youngest to the community’s elders. These ranged from costume drawing out on the estate, building curiosity cabinets in the woods, creating installations in underpasses, the creation of a community cookbook with a series of community cook-ups, stitching community bunting on the streets, and telling stories under the stars.

Great to see people out on the street working together kind of reminded me how it used to be. A bit of community!

Jill (estate resident)

A Lost Museum woodlands curiosity case.
A Lost Museum woodlands curiosity case.

From the outset the idea behind every interaction and workshop was to create little pockets of magic on the housing estate. The Lost Museum’s focus has been to seek the extraordinary in the ordinary; to seek out the stories that people believe not to be important, and to demonstrate the immense value that they have in remembering our places and communities.

I most enjoyed the workshops we have done with the community; such as making the peg dolls with the local children and families. This was a wonderful opportunity for us as project volunteers to gain hand on experiences. However, the much larger impact on the community in the sense of being inclusive, accessible and free for people to partake. Parents, children and the elderly came out to join us as in so many of our workshops. It has been a fabulous experience.

KF (trainee of The Lost Museum)

Marmalade made using a heritage recipe!
Marmalade made using a heritage recipe from a community member’s handwritten cookbook!

During the past few months, we have continued to work across the community delivering projects to inspire our most vulnerable residents and to keep them connected, by sharing stories via our Quiet Revolution project. We have also initiated a project ‘on your doorstep’, inviting residents to document their worlds during the pandemic through images they capture. This has given a beautiful insight into how people have found ways to cope, through searching out the beauty in our everyday in times of uncertainty.

The Lost Museum: history about the area and the project.
The Lost Museum: history about the area and the project.

We are enormously grateful for the unwavering support from our amazing volunteers, The MERL, Catalyst Housing and most importantly to the Dee Park Community that with such generosity of spirit shared their stories. We are delighted that The Lost Museum will take up its permanent home in the new Dee Park Community Centre, where it will be a permanent reminder of Dee Park Estate in a changing landscape of regeneration and offer space for future generations to contribute, too.

The Lost Museum is not just about what one inherits from ones ancestors but also what we leave behind for people to follow. The legacy we leave.

Visit The Lost Museum at The MERL, in The Nook, until the end of December 2020. Book your free visit to The MERL online today.

As a side-note: we love that The Lost Museum got (literally) lost in The MERL a few days before lockdown in March. It adds yet another layer to the remarkable journey of The Lost Museum.

Catalyst logo. Heritage Lottery Fund logo. Engine Room logo.

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