History will come alive on the streets of Stowmarket tomorrow, thanks to Time Machine, a new one-day festival. Jenny Cousins, Chair of the culture group behind the event, and Director of the Museum of East Anglian Life, says now is the time to celebrate the town
I moved to Suffolk in 2016 for the job, so I’ve just had my five-year anniversary here. I was completely new to the area when I started and had just finished a major project for the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. The Museum of East Anglian Life is a fabulous asset – there is nothing quite like it elsewhere. I think everyone who worked here felt it had great potential, but we needed a unifying strategy and a way of making people aware of what we can offer. We’ve done a lot over the last few years – fixing buildings, new exhibitions, and programmes – we do a huge range of stuff that would surprise a lot of people – but the key thing is our decision to rebrand next year as the Food Museum, which has given us a clear sense of direction. It’s not about losing the collection we have; it’s about reinterpreting it to make it relevant to people’s lives now, and there is little that is more universal than food.
The Stowmarket Culture Group has two main aims – to promote the great stuff that is already taking place in Stowmarket and to encourage partnerships to grow Stowmarket’s culture scene further. The town has some great venues, all of them independent and all with their own character. We need to do more to get people involved with their local venues and groups and to have pride in the place they live. There’s some great stuff going on, from youth theatre to conservation work.
We were quite lucky at the museum – because we have so much green space (75 acres), we were able to adapt to become a park during much of the last year. We opened the site for free and lots of local people did their exercise here. We offered a free Book-a-Garden scheme for local families without access to a garden of their own, set up a fitness trail, and we have been heavily involved in the government’s Kickstart programme focused on young people who are out of work. We’ve offered 27 six-month placements at the museum for 18 to 24-year-olds so far and, in addition, our partners in town have hosted another seven. We’ve run programmes for kids in receipt of free school meals and supported home learning. We also did a massive amount of online volunteering, working with people in 25 different countries, all of whom have helped us uncover our history.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to see what’s on our own doorstep and how special it is. Time Machine is a fun way for people to reflect on what makes Stowmarket different and what they would like to see happen in the future. We want people to share their memories and aspirations and visit some great local venues such as the John Peel Centre and the Library.
Due to my previous job, I’m always going to be interested in Stowmarket’s wartime history and I often think about the German bomb which destroyed part of it when I walk down the high street where the United Reformed Church is now. I’m loving the new bakery and the new Regal, and it’s been nice to see the investment going into Fox Yard. This may go without saying, but I really like the museum! It’s got some beautiful buildings and a 55-year history of being here in Stowmarket, growing with the town. When the museum was founded, Stowmarket had about 5000 people and today it’s 22,000. When you step from the shopping precinct through the museum entrance, I don’t think you expect it to be quite so large and so peaceful. I love watching the kingfisher and seeing the seasons change.
Beyond Time Machine, there is the Careeriosity event for under 19s taking place across town. At the museum we have Apple Day on October 23 and Bonfire Night on November 6. We couldn’t run one last year but we’re excited to have it back for 2021.
The Time Machine event takes place tomorrow (October 9). It has been produced by the Stowmarket Culture Group and events will take place at different venues including the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket Library, the John Peel Centre, Old Fox Yard and The Regal Stowmarket. Visitors can enjoy ‘Taste the Past’ at the Museum of East Anglian Life, sharing food memories and exploring museum objects to discover local food stories. In addition, visitors to the town can keep an eye out for a Time Travelling Machine piloted by the (usually confused) Victorian gadgeteer professor Keith Robinson from Circus Fudge. The professor will land in Stowmarket and will need some help navigating his way around and discovering more about the town. The Time Machine concept was first piloted by Rochdale Development Agency in 2019 and Stowmarket has been chosen as one of only three towns nationally to deliver the scheme this year along with Blackburn and Knowle. Stowmarket will also be welcoming the arrival of the Women’s Tour into the district, which will pass through the town just after mid-day.