Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Trip to the Imperial War Museum North

We have had a very busy weekend which started with an invitation to tour the Imperial War Museum North in Salford Quays. We've actually visited before when we attended an event to promote their Once Upon a Wartime exhibition last year so we were really pleased to attend again.

The Northern branch of the Imperial War Museum opened in Salford Quays ten years ago. It is housed in a landmark building which was designed by Daniel Libeskind to represent a globe shattered into the three theatres of war - land, sea and air.

Imperial War Museum North Exterior Views

On arrival at the museum we were treated to a storytelling and craft session in the Learning Studio. We met Nancy, a Land Girl dolly, who told us all about her life in the Second World War working on the farm. Bud was completely enthralled by this. It helps that farms are probably his favourite thing of all at the moment. The storyteller used toy animals, pictures and sound and smell boxes to bring the story to life brilliantly. After our story we were invited to go and make a mask or do a picture. Bud loved sticking and cutting to make his mask and we also brought home a couple of pictures too. I can't praise the Learning Studio highly enough, it has equipment available from infants upwards - Little Miss was happy in their bouncer chair and underneath their activity arch, while Bud played with the train set and dressed up as a donkey!

Imperial War Museum Learning Studio Craft and Play Activities

Following a happy hour spent in the Learning Studio we were shown to the main exhibition space as it opened to the public. The Imperial War Museum houses the national collection for war from 1914 onwards. The story is told through a timeline which walks you through the last century and tells the story of the people affected by the conflicts that have taken place. This is always engaging with new displays being added all the time. I was really pleased to see some new interactive displays since our last visit. Bud loves these, he may not know what to do but if there is handle spinning or button pressing to be done he is definitely the boy for the job! Next door is the temporary exhibition space which currently houses an exhibition looking at medicine in war. I wouldn't recommend this for sensitive children and our guide advised us to check before taking our children in with us.

Imperial War Museum North Main Exhibition Space

I know many people might be sceptical at how appropriate a museum like this is for young children but it really is excellent. The museum's theme is the effect of war upon people and I think even primary school age children are taught this. Bud doesn't yet understand any of it, he simply enjoys walking around and making sense of it in his own way. He was very interested in the tank, for example, but it was definitely a train as far as he was concerned. At the wall of suitcases he decided that lots of people were going on holiday. Every hour the 'Big Picture Show' is shown in the centre of the main space. This uses real people's stories, music, film and photography to tell a particular story. We watched 'Britain at War' and I was amazed at how Bud sat through it. They last about ten minutes long but he was amazed by the size of the 'TV' (I really should take him to the cinema) and the changing pictures. 

Following our walk around the exhibitions we visited the Air Shard viewing platform. Last time we went to the Imperial War Museum we couldn't see the Lowry Centre across the docks from the museum as the weather was so bad! On this visit we were rewarded by beautiful clear skies and wonderful views across the docks to Media City, the Lowry, Old Trafford and the new Coronation Street set where we could see the new street taking shape.

Imperial War Museum North View from the Air Shard

We also enjoyed lunch in the excellent restaurant. This is the only part of the museum that is in any way a letdown for me. On every visit I've found this understaffed. Queues form because they don't have a separate member of staff serving drinks to the one operating the till. This was my only criticism as the standard of food and drinks is high and the children's lunch pack is great value - sandwich, drink, fruit and two snack items for £3:95 with a really wide range of snack items to choose from. 

It is a  museum that we will revisit many times I think, to take advantage of both the Learning Studio and the main exhibitions. There are a wide range of half term activities taking place in February and, with free admission to the museum, it is a great place for families to visit. 

Disclaimer: We were invited to a private tour of the museum but the thoughts and opinions are all my own.