Review: IWM North

Imperial War Museum North
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A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of Storm Ciara, we abandoned plans to visit the Imperial War Museum North. On the Friday of half term, I’m off and himself has taken a day’s holiday, so we can have a family day out.

It’s a 40 minute drive for us and free entry so we just had to pay for parking (the RingGo app made this really easy in the pouring rain as we didn’t even need to leave the car to pay). We arrived by 11am and went straight in, just missing their hourly video and sound projection.

The boys loved the Harrier as we entered the gallery.

Clockwise from top left: the museum building, Harrier jet, projection on the walls with Trabant in foreground, a Matilda tank.

The display cases are a bit dry and inaccessible for small boy (4 and a half) – both physically and for him to understand. He enjoyed trying in different helmets though. Large boy (8) had loads of questions and we needed to explain things in terms that he could cope with. How can you explain terrorism and the World Trade Centre to an 8 year old without scaring them?

At midday a beautiful video was projected onto the walls with words from Tony Walsh. It was absorbing and entrancing. When it ended, small boy was clinging to my leg, scared by the ideas of war and families being separated, he was almost in tears. Large boy was very quiet and thoughtful, concerned about the idea of how war could affect normal people. After some hugs and reassurance that mum and dad will always do our best to protect them, we decided to take a break for lunch. We started with the museum cafe but the menu was uninspiring (especially for the kids) and it was rather busy. So we braved the wind and rain and walked over the bridge to Salford Quays for a cheeky Nando’s (long wait for food but clean plates).

After lunch we went back to pick up the museum during WWII. We saw pictures of he Nazis and of British sailors. I found photos of my grandad to show them and look at the similarities – he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.

Then through the Cold War and onto modern war and terrorism. There were a few interactive bits, which were all working too. Just before we’d looked at everything the 2pm projection started. Small boy was apprehensive but less upset, large boy didn’t like the loud bangs of the bombs but the colour images (by Peter Jackson) were rich and showed how normal people were affected by war.

After some discussion of the Berlin wall, the division of Ireland and 9/11 we all fancied something sweet so this time we visited the cafe. The cakes were yummy but they hadn’t got any decaf tea, the teapot spout was chipped and the tea cup slightly stained – not up to the standard of the rest of the museum.

Conclusion

The museum’s exhibits are excellent and sensitively presented. However, the content isn’t really suitable for young children. There are a few bits for them to get involved in and of course the subject matter is challenging for younger kids anyway, but I think there could be lots more hands on things to keep them engaged. For us, its important that our boys know their history, understand the consequences of intolerance and selfishness or nationalism. We want them to learn about the mistakes made in that past. But I think if the boys had gone with only one parent it would have been a tough day – large boy needed a lot of explanations and small boy needed his interest stimulated. I think we’ll be waiting 5 years before a repeat visit.

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