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Food history is the future of Stowmarket museum

Museum director, Jenny Cousins, with a 1920s horse drawn milk carriage
Museum director, Jenny Cousins, with a 1920s horse drawn milk carriage

Museum bosses are hoping to create the country’s first national food museum based on the unique heritage of the region.

Jenny Cousins, who took over as director of the Museum of East Anglian Life in September 2016, wants to give the Stowmarket museum a new identity.

The museum, which was established 50 years ago, has traditionally focused on rural and agricultural life.

But to help attract more modern audiences, Jenny wants to reinterpret the 40,000 objects in its collection around a theme of food and food production.

“When the museum was founded, there was a perception of huge change and the loss of a certain way of life,” said Jenny.

“More people worked on the land in those days whereas today, fewer than one per cent of the UK population works in agriculture.

“We thought about our collection and realised the overriding theme was food production and food processing.

“The watermill, the wind pump, the dairy workers’ cottage, the plough, are just some examples of objects involved in these.

“We felt that understanding our rich heritage through food, how it was made, what people ate, and people’s memories of life in the area would be more relevant to modern audiences.”

To help develop the theme, the museum is looking for volunteers to help it create a digital archive of objects.

Called Search For The Stars, volunteers are being asked to help identify what they consider ‘star’ exhibits.

“It’s a huge task but we have thousands of objects which will enable us to tell the story of food in our region, through the decades,” said Jenny.

“For instance, we can explain how hygiene standards changed through items such as the milkmans’ early horse drawn vehicle through to the later, more modern vehicles.

“We live in an area of market towns where food production and processing has always been key.

“Mixed farming, arable and livestock, has dominated the history of the region but times have changed with the industry becoming more specialised.

“We want to play to our strengths and tell the story of food through the decades.

“Food is a hugely popular topic from people visiting restaurants, to watching cookery programmes and reading cookery books.”

The museum is hoping to work closely with local people, groups, and businesses to help it bring the concept to life.

Anyone interested in helping or volunteering should email: volunteering@eastanglianlife.org.uk

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