We attended a special preview of the Imperial War Museum North’s half-term schedule this weekend. We woke up bright and early, argued about leaving the house late (is this normal?) and managed to get across to Salford Quays just in time. It’s fair to say we are not really morning people.
We’d actually visited the museum relatively recently but only for about twenty minutes one evening as we were killing time between (watching, not starring in) performances at The Lowry. We were with my dad so he took Ebony round whilst me and Laurie managed to do exciting pre-parent things like walk at our own pace and read the information boards. This weekend we had no such luck.
We were given a taster of the half-term events, and I can now report that the IWMN is well worth a visit that week. We started our morning by listening to A Sailor’s Story, a storytelling session about a sailor called Wally and his adventures leading up to the second world war. It was an informative and interactive session. At three, Ebony was a little young to follow a lot of the information, but it held her attention nonetheless, and she enjoyed participating in the story.
After the story-telling session we made our way down to the Learning Studio for a Message in a Bottle craft session. Children were supposed to write a message on their bottle and then decorate it. Ebony was a little young for that and instead drew a slightly terrifying picture of a scared looking man (see above), and spent twenty minutes hacking at the bottle with a pair of scissors. The Learning Studio is a great space and not one that I’ve visited before. There are lots of crafts supplies, storybooks and toys to entertain children of any ages, and there’s even a soft play bit for younger kids.
After the craft session was over, we went to watch the day's short film. For those who don’t know, the main exhibition space doubles up as a cinema, with images flashing up on the imposing walls, and voices echoing around the room. The first time I visited the museum, I sobbed because, though I can’t remember what it was about now, the film was so moving. The films are short and are played every hour, and are definitely worth a watch. For half-term, they have joined forces with Horrible Histories and created a fantastic animated film. I used to love Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books when I was at primary school so was pleased to find out they are still a thing. Ebony was captivated by the whole film, and didn’t try to run off once. Impressive.
After the film, we had a quick look round the main exhibition space, trying to read the odd information sign whilst Ebony dashed from display to display. There are lots of amazing things to see, and the last time we visited I was particularly taken with a toy dog made from official army uniform. This time, it was the huge twisted metal that held my attention, this is in fact a window frame from the World Trade Centre. The museum houses lots of artefacts, and I seem to notice something new each time I go.
The museum also houses a Harrier Jump Jet, and when I went to the museum with my dad last he told me that he had once had a summer job working with the prototype for that plane. In fact, the plane he worked with currently resides in the London Science Museum. Just to be clear, he didn’t work with it during the war, he’s not quite that old. He worked with a team of researchers who were trying to see if black boxes could be replaced with live transmission (or something like that). And just to be clear, he wasn’t one of the researchers, he was the 18 year old charged with climbing between the plane’s engines and removing the black box as soon as the plane landed. By all accounts, it was very hot to be between two recently used jet engines.
After getting confused and telling Laurie and Ebony all about how my dad used to fly the plane, we decided to go up the Air Shard. This was a terrible idea. The Air Shard is terrifying. And very sweaty. Perhaps if you are a normal person, the Air Shard is wonderful and the views are breathtaking. But, should you be scared of, for example, Lifts And Heights, then let me tell you, the Air Shard is not for you. On a positive note, the seventeen flights of refreshingly solid concrete stairs on the way back down (so as to avoid the lift), will leave you feeling quite glad to be alive. But, I am assured by Laurie and Ebony that the Air Shard was very good and not at all scary should you be the sort of person who feels safe in lifts.
The Imperial War Museum North is located at Salford Quays, just across the water from The Lowry.Throughout half-term there are a number of family activities on, including the ones we were lucky enough to take part in. The activities will run from 10:30am each day, and you can find out more about them by clicking here. One thing we didn’t get to do, and which sounds amazing, is A Closer Look. It’s a 20 minute tour looking at the experiences of gay service personnel in the arm, which I think sounds really interesting.
The museum is open 10am - 6pm daily, and is free to visit. If you are Really Brave, a trip up the Air Shard will cost you £1.20 (60p for concessions).