Derby Silk Mill, Museum of Making

A young man wearing a Derby Museums lanyard stands talking to a small group of people in a workshop

Yesterday evening we were given a tour of Derby Silk Mill by Daniel Martin, Curator of Making. We’ve been to the Silk Mill many times before but being shown the building and its contents by someone like Daniel really opened my eyes to what we have here.

The Silk Mill was closed to the public in 2011 as visitor numbers were declining. Then began an exciting process of rethinking what the museum could be, and what it needed to be in order to become a relevant and vibrant place again. It was clear that people no longer wanted to visit a museum and read lengthy passages of text about some dimly lit objects. A new approach was required.

Derby Silk Mill Exterior Photo by Glyn Smith

Today’s Silk Mill houses workshops where members of the public can come to learn new skills and actually get involved in putting on exhibitions if they want. This place isn’t just about the past anymore, it’s equally about the future. Real things are being made. Blocks of wood are being turned into furniture. Circuit boards are being soldered to make little synthesisers. Plastic is being formed into ultra-modern displays that show historic objects in a completely new way. There’s also a 3D printer and (my favourite) a laser cutter!

When you walk into the Silk Mill today you enter into a space that displays our industrial heritage in way that is actually really engaging. If you want to get every little detail about the pieces on display you can do that; equally though you might just enjoy things from an aesthetic perspective. Both approaches are fine. For a long time I really wouldn’t have enjoyed the thought of going to a museum when I could’ve been home watching TV. This place isn’t like the museums I was imagining.

tedxderby 2015 in the main room at Derby Silk Mill Photo by Glyn Smith

The Silk Mill is also a fantastic events space. We hosted this year’s TEDxDerby in the main room and the setting worked incredibly well. Just look how cool it looks on the videos.

And all of this is just the start, with the recent announcement of a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund the Silk Mill is going to keep getting better and better. Exciting things are afoot and you can be a part of that if you want. Whether that means popping down for a visit, going to one of the events hosted there, making a donation or getting involved in some other way. We’ve got a good thing here, let’s use it eh?

Who to Follow

  • You can follow the main Derby Museums Twitter account and the Silk Mill account for more museumy goodness.
  • This event was organised by the Museums Association follow them on Twitter for other such things.

Pete Clark

Pete Clark is a designer and web developer. He enjoys going to museums and writing short poems about the stuffed (dead) animals that reside within.

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