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First Look inside Reading MERL Museum - Get Reading

First look inside Reading MERL museum after major redevelopment and investment

First look inside Reading MERL museum after major redevelopment and investment

Take a look at our video and gallery of photos from the exclusive preview of the newly redeveloped museum

Get Reading By Francesca Perryman 

18 OCT 2016

From mooing cows and interactive lambing games to full-sized tractors once used on Berkshire farms, Reading's MERL Museum has had an exciting transformation. Known as the UK's leading museum of food, farming and countryside, it will reopen this week after a £3.3 million redevelopment project.

The museum in Redlands Road was established in 1951 and grew out of the University of Reading's long tradition of academic excellence in agriculture.  Director of MERL, Kate Arnold-Forster said: "We began talks about this project five years ago. We wanted to make the museum more relevant and accessible. Our collections have grown over time and there were things about rural culture, and the connections between land and people that we wanted to explain more - issues and debates for example, we wanted to open them up."

The project has the seen the site expand with several extensions and more use of the space in the various galleries.  There are more objects and textiles, and there is a 'different feel' to the museum.

Kate said: "We felt previously that some objects were self-explanatory but now we've realised they need more explaining, and we have embraced digital media throughout this new project by including various interactive elements."

For example, there is an immersive collection about taming the landscape which includes sounds of the weather and the different seasons, and there are various digital interactive games for children.

Head of curatorial and public engagement, Isabel Hughes said: "We have one million photographs in our archive and we have been able to use so many to explain the farming story throughout the museum."  She added the displays have moved on from focusing solely on the farming objects, and now look at the people who have had an impact on farming technology too.  A sensory cow has also been developed as part of the collection, making it "more accessible for people with learning difficulties and disabilities".  The cow has been developed as a workshop tool and allows people to leave their own cow sounds, or any sound they wish, and the sounds are recorded by continually pressing a button under the cows chin.

The Museum of English Rural Life is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, DCMS Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, Wellcome Trust

There will also be a grand opening festival at the weekend on Saturday, October 22 from 10am to 4pm with activities available throughout the day, catering and a performance area - book tickets for £3 per adult and children go free. Admission to the museum is free, and it is open 9am to 5pm from Tuesday to Friday, and 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.