Kat Mawford and Matt Ingham, PhD students at the University of Manchester and members of the Manchester Classical Association committee, report on Athena’s Owls, a public engagement project working with local libraries in Manchester.
The Athena’s Owls project, part of the Manchester Classical Association’s public engagement programme, is a series of myth and ancient history crafts and literacy workshops aimed at children of primary school age, currently held on a monthly basis at Didsbury Library. Now in its second year, the project has four main aims: to introduce children to the ancient world and help them explore and maintain an interest in it; to create a fun and enjoyable experience in an inclusive environment, inviting children (and parents!) to find out about what we do and how learning about Ancient History can be useful and exciting; to provide a creative outlet; and to encourage literacy.
Each session involves a myth-based storytelling activity related to the session’s overall theme; this theme is further explored in the activity part of the workshop. This is the main focus of each session, where we work with the children on craft projects based on an aspect of classical culture. In the 18 months or so that we’ve been holding the workshops, children attending have worked on a huge range of projects: from making mosaics to Roman helmets, oil lamps, model triremes, laurel crowns, Cyclopes puppets, and even Roman sandals (to name just a few!)
It’s our intention to expand the project by holding a second set of regular workshops at another library, along with one-off sessions in other locations in Greater Manchester. Our ultimate aim is to compile all of our materials and topics and make them available as fully planned sessions for anyone (other libraries, public engagement groups, or schools) to hold their own sessions. At the moment, this aim is still at the planning stage, but watch this space! With this in mind, we have always made our own resources and designs for the craft activities – avoiding copyright issues – and since October 2018 (the first anniversary of the workshops), we have been writing our own versions of the myths, designed to be read aloud and suitable for the often quite broad age range we have at the sessions.
In February we were lucky enough to receive an ICS public engagement grant; this will allow us to gather a stock of materials and to develop the project even further, enabling us to expand to additional venues. In the past 18 months we have gone from attracting small groups of children who were already visiting the library to having regular attendees who travel specifically for the sessions. With increasingly ambitious projects and much larger groups, with the ICS’s support we’re really excited to see where Athena’s Owls will go from here.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do and the activities we cover, you can find pictures and details of events on the Manchester CA website or by following the #AthenasOwls hashtag on Twitter. Information about the dedicated Athena’s Owls website will also be shared on these accounts as and when there are developments.
by Kat Mawford and Matt Ingham (Image credits: Kat Mawford)
You can find the authors of this piece on Twitter at @katmawford and @mattjingham.