Behind The Scenes, 3 August 2017: Working together to create a splash

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

By now hopefully those of you who follow us will know that we have launched a new name and brand for what was previously known as the Plymouth History Centre (working title). As a marketeer I can’t tell you how great it is to now be working with a definitive title and visual identity for this exciting project and to finally be able to ditch those brackets!

The Box logo - July 2017

Our launch took the form of a teaser campaign and ‘top secret’ volunteer call out in the local press and social media, followed by a reveal on our promotional leaflets, construction site hoardings and website on 22 July. This was backed up with some great press coverage and two fantastic performances in the Drake Circus shopping mall. The performances were commissioned from the Barbican Theatre and featured a number of local performers, choreographers, artists and musicians.

Our new name has generated a great deal of debate which we really welcome. There are a number of reasons why we chose it. These are outlined in our official press release which I’d encourage anyone who would like to understand more about the development process we’ve been through and the rationale behind the brand to read.

Photograph of the front of The Box leaflet - July 2017

I’ve been involved in a number of branding projects and launch events during my career and they all bring their own set of unique challenges with them – especially when there’s a great deal of interest and expectation in the project or organisation they represent. There are three things that really stand out for me about this particular launh.

The first thing is the great teamwork that took place. Getting ready for the launch required a number of people with a wide range of skills to collaborate. Along with myself it involved contributions from colleagues in public art, events and audience development, digital engagement, volunteer coordination and business support. We also had to engage with a range of suppliers from graphic design, web development, film and video production, to photography, public relations, merchandising, printing – even air filling for balloons!

The second thing was the amount of help we received. We had a lovely group of enthusiastic volunteers assisting us throughout the day. We were also lucky enough to benefit from a great deal of support and cooperation from the local media as well as the team who manage Drake Circus and the mall’s retailers, especially Marks and Spencer and Yo Sushi. We are very grateful to everyone.

The third thing was the quality of the performances devised and directed by the Barbican Theatre which were pieces of global contemporary dance combined with street theatre, rap and folk music.

Curious ‘choruses’ of walking boxes wove their way around the shopping mall before aerial dancers and performers gathered to open and unwrap a series of objects. Our new strapline, ‘Where the greatest explorer is you’ was referenced, with Polynesian-influenced moves inspired by our world cultures collections, and the discovery of a character representing the female mountaineer Gertrude Benham in a packing case. Huge thanks and congratulations to the directors, choreographers, designers, artists, performers and musicians involved.

As our CEO Paul Brookes said: “Like our architecture, ‘The Box’ as our title is a brave, contemporary move. As the launch performances from the Barbican Theatre team showed, although at first glance it may appear simple it actually holds a multitude of meanings. The performances also illustrated how Plymouth’s cultural sector can work with the businesses and facilities within the city centre to showcase the artistic journey we are all on together.”

Greg Lumley, Drake Circus Centre Director said: “A massive congratulations to The Box team. It looks like it will be an exciting and welcome addition to the city. The Drake Circus team look forward to working with The Box to ensure we continue to create a compelling visitor offer that positively impacts the local economy.”

I’ll leave you with the links to our official launch video and the images from the performances. Until next time…..

Main performance images:


Curious chorus images:


Official launch video:


History Centre Heroes: Antony Jinman

by Rosemary Babichev

Supreme Plymouth hero Robert Falcon Scott attempted to conquer the Antarctic by being the first to set foot there, and won fame for the boldness of his efforts to obtain this accolade for the nation, although it ended in tragedy for him and his team. In contrast Antony Jinman, the twelfth Britain to ski alone to the world’s bottommost point is campaigning against a tragedy of all humankind – climate change, having seen for himself the cold that killed Scott fatally losing its power.

Jinman was born in 1981 at Wembury. He served four years in the navy as a surveyor on a vessel named after his mentor – HMS Scott, but then had to leave due to long-term ill health. Still wanting to pursue his passion for exploration, in 2010 he organised an expedition to the North Pole that allowed school children to track progress and communicate with him using a satellite link and drones to send astonishing pictures of the ice sheets he and his team had to cross.

Photograph of polar explorer Antony Jinman walking across the ice

The schools were highly enthusiastic and frequently invited him to come and speak about his experiences afterwards, so much so that he set up a company – Education through Exhibitions CIC offering Polar Fun Days, teaching resources on the Earth’s poles, as well as courses in expedition skills and leadership aimed at executives and university science departments.

In 2011 the importance of his contribution to education on climate change was recognised by the University of the West of England, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. He is also Explorer in Residence at Plymouth University. By the end of 2016 Jinman and his team had been to over 700 schools.

In 2014 just over one hundred years after Scott’s expedition, Jinman set off for the Antarctic. Using skis and the advantages of modern lightweight camping gear he was able to forgo Scott’s ill advised dog bearers and pulled everything he needed himself on a sled weighing 120 kilos, crossing the 730 miles of snow and ice alone.

Photograph of polar explorer Antony Jinman reaching the South Pole

As he slid through the perpetual sunlight of the southernmost summer in temperatures of -30˚ he maintained contact with children from 63 schools in the UK and elsewhere answering questions, discussing issues and most importantly, describing everything around him – each minute of his waking day allowing them to be with him virtually, sharing in the heroism and real-life engagement with the science of his own survival and that of the planet. For Plymouth University he tested his memory to investigate its effectiveness in extreme conditions for research into dementia.

Jinman’s next plan is to climb Mount Everest by 2018, and while he will belong to a constantly growing group of adventurers who have already done so, few if any will have achieved so much to fire the imaginations of those who will be responsible for protecting the fierce beauty of the Earth’s extremities, so they remain part of the complex system sustaining life on earth.

History Centre Heroes: Gertrude Benham

Gertrude Emily Benham (1867-1937) was a truly amazing woman: a remarkable traveller and record breaking mountaineer who journeyed around the world at the beginning of the 20th century.

She was born 149 years ago – on 29 July 1867 – and raised in London – the youngest of six children. Throughout her childhood summers she regularly visited the Swiss Alps with her father. These were early experiences that would shape her future.

By her early twenties she had become a skilled mountain climber with more than 130 ascents under her belt including Mont Blanc and the notorious Matterhorn.

Gertrude Benham
Gertrude Benham was probably the most widely travelled explorer of the early 20th century

Her father died in 1891. Her mother then passed away a few years later in 1903 leaving her a small inheritance. This, together with her own savings, gave her the funds to embark on a life of adventure!

In the years that followed she travelled around the world many times and climbed over 300 peaks including mountains in the Rockies, where the ‘Truda Peaks’ are named in her honour, and the Himalayas. In 1909 she became the first recorded woman to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.

Rockies and Kilimanjaro
Left: The Rockies where a small range of three mountains known as the ‘Truda Peaks’ are named after Benham
Right: Mount Kilimanjaro. Benham was the first recorded female to ascend the mountain. She reached the edge of the crater now known as Mawenzi (5,149 metres or 16,890 feet) – the second highest of Kilimanjaro’s three peaks

Between 1904 and 1914 Benham travelled extensively, visiting Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, Japan, India, Egypt and Corsica (1904), Japan, America, Chile and Brazil (1908), Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania (1909), India (1910 and 1911), the South Pacific and America (1912), Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Nyasaland (Malawi) and Mozambique (1913) and India (1914).

Benham travelled alone, carrying a few books and aided only by porters. Along the way she sketched and collected flowers. She also sold her knitting and embroidery to pay for the many ethnological objects she collected, many of which were decorative items that displayed particular craft skills.

During the First World War (1914-18) she stayed in England, where she established relationships (albeit difficult ones) with the Royal Geographical Society and the Natural History Museum.

After the war was over she began trekking once more, visiting India (1919), Africa (1921), India and Tibet (1924), South Africa, Zanzibar, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, India, Malaya and the East Indies, Hong Kong, America, Guatemala, British Honduras (Belize), the West Indies and Trinidad (1926), India (1929 and 1931), Hong Kong, America, Peru and Chile (1933), the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), New Zealand, Hong Kong and India (1935), Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Africa (1937).

Benham's mountains
Benham’s mountains. Top left: the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Top right: the Andes, South America. Bottom left: the Himalayas, a place where Benham returned many times. Bottom right: Mont Blanc, the Alps

At an unknown date she also visited Taiwan, Burma (Myanmar), Celebes (Sulawesi), Java and China. The locations she travelled to read like a map of the world.

On the rare occasions Benham was in England she took lodgings in London. She also had a bungalow built at Lyme Regis where she intended to ‘retire’.

Sadly, she died in early 1938 aboard a ship off the coast of East Africa. She was buried at sea.

Fortunately for Plymouth, a few years prior to this in 1934, Benham gave Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery its biggest world cultures collection gathered from nearly every country in what was then the British Empire.

She had landed in Plymouth in January 1928 and was impressed with the Museum. She decided it would be the ideal resting place for her collection which includes jewellery, costume and accessories, metalwork, lacquer ware, ceramics, toys and religious articles.

Among the hundreds of items she gave us were these boots (below right). In the notebook she carried on her travels she wrote that they were ‘worn by me on my tramps to Leh’. Located in Northern India, Leh was a busy Himalayan town on the Silk Route from China.

Leh and Boots
Left: the town of Leh in the Himalayas
Right: Benham’s infamous boots

A woman travelling alone to such far flung places in the 1920s and 1930s was highly unusual and because of this the things Benham accomplished were not celebrated in the way they should have been. Her ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro should have written her into the record books, but few of the histories of the mountain mention her name.

Having the opportunity to address this and share her amazing achievements is something we are very proud of, as is being able to display some of the many objects she generously donated to us.

For the past few years we have featured items from her collection in our ‘Bringing the World to Plymouth’ gallery. When the History Centre opens in 2020 we will continue to highlight her story in our ‘100 Journeys that Shaped the World’ gallery.