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A tour for the senses

19 March 2018 by Steven Williams

Museum display with wooden flaps to lift with smells of goods from Liverpool's docks

The ‘Smells galore’ interactive in The Great Port gallery is just one of the sensory experiences at the Museum of Liverpool.

Liverpool is a city that has undoubtedly left its mark on history: world famous long before The Beatles, its rise, fall and rise again is a rich story of innovation and struggle, suffering and prosperity.

The Museum of Liverpool exists to tell this story, displaying a diverse selection of objects in a modern, purpose built museum for all to see. But what if you couldn’t see the objects, what if you couldn’t hear the audio descriptions or engage with the interactive exhibits?

These questions led to the development of ‘sensory tours’: an opportunity to be guided around the museum discovering artefacts and exhibits that can be interacted with in a number of different ways. Maybe it is something as simple as exploring a tactile model of Liverpool’s Pier Head or hearing the sound and feeling the weight of chain mail armour. Perhaps it is discovering the unsavoury smells of court housing or tracing with your fingertips the delicate texture of a Chinese ceramic design. There can be many ways to interact with objects as long as they are not always held at a distance, shielded by a pane of glass.

The appeal of sensory exploration is not solely for those who cannot see into a glass case however, how many of us on seeing an interesting item feel compelled to touch it? Well, the sensory tours offer something of that opportunity to all, in a truly multi-sensory experience, highlighting some of the more accessible objects on display and also opening up or even bringing along some others.

In fact there are so many different objects which we could bring along with us that we have also begun to offer ‘sensory sessions’ where we present many of them on a table for the public to investigate. Rather than simply being a handling session, the goal is to engage four of the five senses (tasting is on offer in the café only I’m afraid) and not just the usual one or two, all whilst telling some of the many stories Liverpool has to offer.

And it is that rich history, full of good and bad, horror and triumph, a history that every visitor should have the chance to be both inspired and cautioned by. The sensory tours and sessions offer another way for anyone to experience these stories; stories that they can literally touch, smell, hear and see for themselves.

Sensory tours are free and are held every month. The next one is on Tuesday 20 March at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, or check our what’s on page for future dates of the sensory tours and sensory sessions. You can also find details of all the tactile and sensory displays in the Museum of Liverpool on our access page.

Copy of a plate with traditional Chinese dragon design, recreated with raised details for visitors to touch

There are many touchable exhibits in the Museum of Liverpool, including this plate with a raised dragon pattern

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Welcome to the National Museums Liverpool blog! Written by our staff and volunteers, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our museums and galleries.

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