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What the Duck?

Why we are using Rubber Ducks to encourage conversations in the Scottish Maritime Museum.

When I joined the Scottish Maritime Museum as Community Engagement & Development Officer, I had some preconceived ideas about what this museum was. It was a place that had responsibility for protecting and maintaining boats, machinery, and art that I didn’t think I had much of a personal connection with. Having been working in the Museum now for six months and having had time to explore and appreciate the collection, my preconceived ideas are changing. I now see connections my life in many of the objects and stories told within the Museum. The same is true for many of the visitors who come to explore the space and objects within it. We see from the feedback they leave that they find connections in surprising ways, and it gives their visit to the Museum a sense of value that maybe wasn’t clear when they first arrived.




Picture of George Wylie’s QM tender boat. George was involved in my father’s art gallery, and I remember having many conversations with him as a young adult that have remained with me through the years.


My focus is on engaging with the local community, finding out who is interested in knowing more about the Museum, and sharing opportunities in a space that the community might never have considered using before. To do this, we need to get to know the local community and the community needs to get to know the Museum as more than just that “big brick building in Irvine Harbourside”. Since starting my role, I’ve been reaching out to the local community and inviting them in to explore and share ideas about what interests them and what, if anything, in the Museum speaks to them.                                                                                                  







Members of the Harbour Ayrshire Men’s Only Time enjoying finding their connections with the Museum. 


Our “Community Ideas Sessions” are about making connections both with each other and the Museum collection. We’ve all been there, when you visit a museum and end up walking past objects because there hasn’t been that immediate reaction to draw you in. The hope with our “Community Ideas Sessions” is that those attending will find items or stories in the Museum that do connect with them. Whether that is through their current interests or childhood memories, the hope they leave the Museum thinking, “actually there is more here for me than I initially thought”.

This is where the rubber ducks come in. They are a tool to encourage some playfulness while exploring the Museum. By introducing an element of play and a focus on taking those ducks on an adventure to objects in the Museum that speak to you most strongly, it encourages participants to really stop and look for links to their own lives. Its also something tactile to focus on while exploring an unfamiliar space and opens opportunities to contribute to discussions; even if it is just telling the group what you named your duck.

The ducks might seem a bit of a gimmick, but they have helped those in our community sessions to find associations with our objects that surprised them. By having a simple task of looking for their favourite object or place in the Museum, they’ve found links to their own memories, to their working life and to their passions. It has resulted in deeper and more creative discussions and is leading on to exciting prospects for future community-led exhibitions in the Museum.




Examples of rubber ducks placed in the Museum. Some include reasons for their location and others have just been given a name.


If you would like to know more about our community initiatives at the Scottish Maritime Museum or if you think your community group would be interested in taking part in a Community Ideas Session you can reach out via communities@scotmaritime.org.uk. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

written by Jennifer Pless – Community Engagement and Development Officer for the Scottish Maritime Museum

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