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Dr Lorna Robinson (LMH, 1996) shares her story from studying Classics at Oxford to setting up the Rumble Museum, the first accredited museum in a UK school

Published: 7 April 2021

Author: Zoe Burns


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Where did your love of Classics come from?

I remember when I was about seven or eight having The Usborne Book of Greek Myths in the house, and being transfixed by the illustrations and stories. There was a picture of the minotaur on the front, which I remember finding really haunting. Like a lot of people, the stories drew me in.

What initially drew you to study at Oxford?

We visited for an open day, and it was one of those beautiful early summer sunny days, and the students we met seemed really welcoming and kind. We saw some of the colleges and I really loved the idea of being in a college environment. I also remember being given a copy of the Alternative Prospectus by a friend, and being very taken with the descriptions of LMH (which I then chose to go to).

Tell us about your most rewarding experience of studying at Oxford?

Maybe like a lot of people, when I got my offer, I didn't quite believe it, and I long carried around a sense of ‘having got in by mistake’ somehow, but I have gradually come to realise that those feelings are just part of being human!  Once there, I came to realise that people there were not intimidating but usually warm, friendly and encouraging, and I really loved the breadth of courses that we could choose when studying Classics.

I chose Ovid as one of my finals papers, and remember being thrilled by the world of the poem Metamorphoses - the poem was so vivid and surreal - I’d never experienced a writing style like it before.  There were all sorts of unexpected areas of Classics I got to discover that I wasn't expecting when I arrived! 

Tell us about how you came to set up the Iris Project?

I did a lot of part-time teaching during my doctorate, and through that discovered that I really loved teaching. I went on to teach in secondary schools, and it was during that time that I decided to set up a charity called The Iris Project in 2006. It was named after the Greek messenger goddess, and its aim was to promote access to learning about the ancient world in state schools. The Literacy through Latin project was our first project, which involved sending student teachers into primary schools to teach Latin on the literacy curriculum, but I also taught Greek and Latin in secondary schools. One of those schools was Cheney School, a large and very diverse comprehensive school in east Oxford. 

Why did you want to open a museum in a school? Where did the idea come from?

Over the first ten years of running the charity I started to accumulate all sorts of artefacts which had been donated to us, which I would use in workshops and lessons, but store in cupboards otherwise. Now that we had a base at the school, it occurred to me that we could display some of these items. I did some research and discovered there was a museum accreditation scheme. It was then that I realised that we could set up a museum as part of a school. 

How did the name, the Rumble Museum, come about?

I contacted a supporter of Iris who offered to be a sponsor for the museum. Through this, the museum became known as the Rumble Museum, named after Jamie Rumble, a young man who dedicated his life to working with disadvantaged young people.

Tell us about the artefacts on display at the Rumble Museum, and which is your favourite?

We have almost 300 artefacts. Although the museum started from our ancient Greek and Roman artefacts, these now form only a part of our much wider collections, ranging from lithic tools to modern day items. These items are usually donated to us by individuals, though occasionally we are given university or museum handling collections. 

Particular favourites include an edition of the ‘Suffragette’ newspaper, a candlestick telephone, and a very beautiful ‘ungentarium’ (glass Roman oil or perfume bottle). 

You have taught Latin in schools to children as young as Year 5. In what ways do children benefit from learning Latin?

The single most important benefit is that children really enjoy learning about Latin and the wider history, myth and culture. It provides lots of enjoyment, which is enriching and engaging, and because you are introducing a whole civilisation, there are so many angles to explore: art, music, sport, history, language, drama and religion. 

I also think it helps with understanding grammar and nurturing a love of language learning. 

How has lockdown affected your plans for the museum, and how have you had to adapt?

Like lots of other organisations, we have had to learn very quickly how to operate virtually. We ran a number of virtual initiatives over the first lockdown, ranging from a Hospital Radio Show exploring some of our objects, to daily online features about our collections. We ran a myth-in-a-minute sketch video quiz over lockdown too, which was filmed using an old whiteboard in my house! 

Funding has also been very difficult to find as many places we would usually apply to for grants have either closed for applications or restricted their funds for Covid-related funding.

What would your advice be to anyone else thinking about starting a museum in a school?

I would say go for it, but be aware of the size of the undertaking and that it will take a significant amount of your time! Make sure you have a range of staff and external partners to support you. I would not have been able to get anywhere without the amazing support of David Gimson (Museum Lead at Cheney), other Cheney staff, and a range of people from museums and universities who have offered their guidance at every step of the way. 

Tell us about the Cheney 2050 project?

There are lots of really important issues that schools and museums are facing at the moment: we have a huge global environmental crisis on our hands, and schools and museums are facing very important cultural and societal issues exploring how they can be more inclusive, culturally and historically aware places. The idea of Cheney 50 is to encourage students and the wider community to reflect on these issues. 

If you could time travel, which of the ancient civilisations would you most like to nip back to for a day?

I’d love to experience the Minoan Civilisation, based on Crete and surrounding islands. They are intriguing, with beautiful artwork featuring octopuses and nature. 

Who, real or mythical, from the ancient world would you most like to have dinner with and why?

I’d like to meet Sappho - her poetry is so beautiful and I think she’d be a really interesting character - and I’d like to meet Ovid too. I think he’d be very imaginative and entertaining! 

Dr Lorna Robinson is the founder and director of the Rumble Museum at the Cheney School, east Oxford.