I have been reflecting, today, on the subject of community. I would recommend to anyone who may be feeling isolated, in some way disconnected from their local community or simply just in need of distraction, to consider visiting local venues of interest. A museum, for example, can help us to feel connected to our local community, it can help us gain insight into local culture, it can be a stimulating way to enjoy something that is of personal or professional interest, it offers new learning and there is likely to be some way in which to meet local people.
In the nearby town of Leiston (pronounced locally as lay-ston), here in the English county of Suffolk, you will find a rather wonderful museum called The Long Shop Museum. Locally, people also refer to it as ‘the steam museum’; for this rather under publicised little museum offers a wealth of history relating to England and Britain’s industrial past. The museum has a group of local Volunteers who help deliver the services and who engage in special events or simply the running and upkeep of the museum. Volunteering offers a wonderful opportunity to make new friends, gain new skills or simply the benefit of contributing something to your local community.
On the subject of isolation, here in Suffolk we have a wonderful charity; the Rural Coffee Caravan which visits villages across this beautiful rural county, taking information about services but, most importantly, offering opportunities for those who may otherwise be isolated, a service that brings people together.
To learn more about the wonderful work of this amazing charity, or to donate, visit their web site at:
In Leiston, the Long Shop Museum is situated beside the town’s Doctor’s Practice. It is slightly set back from the street and you would be forgiven for passing by without even knowing it is there; for the signage is minimal. Don’t be fooled by the lack of grandeur, for this little museum conceals one of the grandest achievements of our little island nation; our ‘industrial revolution’, an achievement that changed the world.
As you enter the site, to the right is the entrance and a small shop, in which to purchase your admission tickets and a variety of books and publications on local and national history. On each visit I have made to The Long Shop Museum, I have been welcomed by the friendly faces of Volunteers who staff the shop and who all offer something of their love of the museum, local history and the community.
The museum focuses largely on the history of the founders; the Garret family and the museum premises itself was known as the ‘Leiston Works’; operating from 1778-1932. From the first displays you pass, that tell of the Garret family history and of the development of the works, you move into a second building containing wonderful steam powered machinery.
Supported by memorabilia, old local photographs and preserved artefacts, the story of Leiston Works is revealed from its early days through the height of the industrial revolution and into the 20th Century; through to the present day conception as a museum. The story of how industry revolutionised and transformed not only the local former farming community, but also the nation and then the world.
The Garret family story takes us from farming tools and machinery through to modern electronic appliances and the museum displays a fun, informative and insightful exhibition of industry through to a model of the local ‘Sizewell B’ Nuclear Power Station; showing how steam is still used in the modern world as a component part of nuclear power generation. The extraordinary level of detail within each exhibition zone shows great care and also a sensitive and emotive description of real, local people who worked over the centuries at Leiston Works.
The main ‘Long Shop’ building, itself, is a ‘Cathedral’ of a site where one can wonder at the ingenuity of people from bygone ages and marvel at their stunning creations. There are many recognisable tools, machines, gadgets and objects that are now so much part of our world, that originated in this very site and so there is a sense of reverence about the place as you discover the very birthplace of everyday items we now take for granted.
One of the smaller buildings houses an exhibition. I understand that these change from time to time but, on the occasions of my visits, back in 2014 and 2015, I found a most moving exhibition about the Great War; WWI. This exhibition offered a touching display of the way in which Leiston was affected by the War; with incredible photographic history of the men, women and children of Leiston and the Soldiers and Workers that they all became in that troubled time. Without giving too much away, the whole exhibition was deeply moving. In the Long Shop building, you can actually find unexploded bombs that have been recovered from the Great War (decommissioned, of course) and a variety of tools, weapons and even film footage of local heroes, back in the day.
With areas for children to dress up, experiment with tools and with photos, film footage and an incredible array of things to see, The Long Shop Museum offers a wonderful and enlightening experience for individuals, families, adults and children alike.
Having moved to Suffolk, from London, almost ten years ago, venues like this have helped me to connect with, understand, learn about and meet local people. My family history can be traced back to Suffolk, around 200 years ago, and so I was also able to learn something of my own family heritage and the culture within that part of my family. This represents a part of who I am and that is indeed and enlightening and uplifting experience.
So, do consider taking my advice and see how you might benefit from visiting a local venue that offers you the opportunity to truly connect with your local community. I would also reiterate that there is great value to be found in Volunteering; no matter what your age in adulthood, you have something to offer and also much to gain. Although not within a museum, I too Volunteer, using the skills I have to offer.
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2016.