From Lockdown to LEGO: Crafting History and Building the Future

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I’m joined by Andrew Webb, a content marketer for a tech business, but in his spare time he helps attractions to use Lego as a tool to attract and engage diverse audiences, and enable them to interpret history and culture.

“And at the end of the day, as a parent, we all do our best and you just want them to be playing with something screen free, getting along and learning something. And that is the win.”

Andrew Webb is a LEGO enthusiast who uses bricks in outreach programmes for teams and organisations as diverse at Arm, Pinset Mason, The National Trust, English Heritage, and the Scouts. During the UK’s second Lockdown in early 2021, He made the 1500 year old Sutton Hoo Helmet out of LEGO bricks and submitted it to LEGO Ideas. The build achieved international media coverage, and has since been donated to the National Trust. Andrew continues to help attractions and institutions with LEGO programmes. By day, he works as a global head of content marketing for a B2B tech company. Find out more at http://teambuildingwithbricks.com.

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Andrew’s LEGO Journey
  • LEGO Sutton Hoo Helmet Project
  • LEGO in Museums and Attractions
  • Educational and Creative Uses of LEGO
  • Planning and Implementing LEGO Activities
  • LEGO Events for Adults

Skip the Queue Sutton Hoo Helmet

The interview

Your host, Paul Marden

Our guest, Andrew Webb



Paul Marden: So welcome to the podcast. 

Andrew Webb: Thank you. 

Paul Marden: On Skip the Queue, we always start with some icebreaker questions that you know nothing about. So let’s launch into a couple of those. Book and a pool or museums and galleries for your city break. 

Andrew Webb: Museum and galleries.

Paul Marden: Yeah. I’d expect nothing less given what we’re about to talk about. This is one from one of my colleagues, actually, who is really good at icebreakers whenever we do a team building eventually. So he said, “Would you rather have it and lose it or never have it at all?”

Andrew Webb: Oh, gosh, I’ll have it and lose it for sure. 

Paul Marden: Yeah, gotta be. That one’s from miles. Say thank you, Myles. That was a cracker. 

Andrew Webb: Do you remember the word there was a great one. Would you rather eat ten donuts or raw onion? 

Paul Marden: Oh, ten donuts, hand down. I could easily do that. 

Andrew Webb: I’d get onion. I’d get onion. Every time I would take an onion over ten donuts. I’d be sick after ten donuts. 

Paul Marden: Oh, no, I reckon I could take that. No problem. 

Andrew Webb: Okay. 

Paul Marden: Okay. So we’re going to talk a little bit about your adventures in Lego over the last few years. So why don’t we kick off and talk a little bit about your original interest in Lego? Because I know it goes back not a long way, because that would be rude. But it goes back to a few years ago, doesn’t it? 

Andrew Webb: It does. I mean, like most people growing up in what we might loosely term the west, I had like, I was a kid, you know, I think most of us grew up with it like that. And then like, you know, growing up in that first age of plastics with Heman, Transformers, Lego, Star wars, all of that sort of stuff. 

Paul Marden: You’re just describing my childhood. 

Andrew Webb: It’s funny because that was. It was all sort of ephemeral, right? I mean, the idea was that the reason why that boom happened, just to dwell on why they’re going plastic things. Before that, toys were made out of either tin or wood. So, you know, they were very labour intensive produce there’s certainly injection moulding comes along and we could just have anything coupled with the tv shows and the films and all this sort of stuff. So we all grew up in this sort of first age of disposable plastic, and then it all just gets passed down as kids grow up. It gets given away, gets put in the loft and forgotten about. There’s a moment when a return of the Jedi bedspread doesn’t look cool anymore, right? You hit about 13, 14 and you’re like, “Mom, I really want some regular stuff there.”

So like everybody, you know, I gave it all away, sold it and whatever, but I kept onto my lego and then fast forward, you know, I become a parent and Lego starts to come back into my life. So I’m sort of at a stage where I’m working for a travel startup and I get a press release to go to the Lego House, which if no one has heard about it, where have you been?

But also it is a fantastic home of the brick, which Lego built in, opened in 2016. And it is a phenomenal temple to Lego. Not in terms of like a Legoland style approach with rides and things like that, but it’s all about the brick and activities that you can do in a brick. There is great pools and huge pits of Lego to play with there, as well as displays and all this sort of stuff. They’ve actually got a Lego duplo waterfall.

Paul Marden: Really? 

Andrew Webb: Oh, I mean, it’s a fantastic attraction. And the way they’ve done it is just incredible. So they blend a lot of digital things. So if you make a small fish and insert it into this thing, it appears in the tank and swims around and this sort of stuff and the way you can imprint your designs on things. I should just quickly tell you about the cafeteria there as well, just really quickly. So the cafeteria at the Lego House, everyone gets a little bag of Lego and then whatever you build and insert into this sort of iPad sort of slots type thing, and that’s what you’re. 

So a pink brick might be salmon, a yellow brick might be chicken, whatever, and you put it all in and it recognises it all and then it comes down a giant conveyor belt in a Lego. Giant Lego box and is handed to you by robots. I mean, mind blowing stuff. This is not like with a tray at the National Trust place or somewhere like that for us to come. It is a technological marvel. Absolutely fascinating. So, of course, on the day went, it was a press preview, so there was no canteen workers, so there was no food in the box when me and my daughter, so went without that data, was a bit disappointed. 

But that started that whole reappreciation of Lego, both as a toy to play with my daughter, but also as a way of using Lego in different ways. And that manifests itself in lots of different things. So currently, now, you know, fast forward a little bit. I use Lego for team building exercises, for workshops, for problem solving with organisations, and also just for having fun with adult groups as well as kids. And I think one of the biggest things we’ve seen since this kind of started around 2000s with the sort of adults reading Harry Potter, do you remember that was like, why are you reading this children’s book type of thing? 

Paul Marden: Yeah. 

Andrew Webb: And then all the prequel Star wars films came out and Lego made sets about both those two things. And it kind of. I mean, Bionicle saved the company, as only AFOL will know, but it started that whole merchandising thing and adding Lego into that firmament of IP. Right. And we fast forward now, and it’s Marvel and Star wars and everything. 

Paul Marden: You just said AFOL. I know what an AFOL is, but many of our listeners may not know what AFOL is.

Andrew Webb: Just to go for acronyms here. So an AFOL is an Adult Fan of Lego. And we’ve seen actually Lego in the past five years, even earlier. I mean, Lego always had an adult element to it. And one of the original founders used to use it for designing his own house. And there was a whole architectural system called Molodux. So it’s always had that element to it. But just recently we’ve seen, you know, almost retro sets. So we see the Lego Atari 2600 video game system from 1976, which, yeah. 

Paul Marden: An original NES wasn’t there. 

Andrew Webb: Exactly. NES that’s come out. I’ve got a Lego Optimus prime back here for transformers, you know, all that kind of stuff. So with what’s been really interesting is this kidault or whatever, however, call it. And I think that’s really fascinating, because if we think about Lego as a toy, we are rapidly approaching the age where we might have three generations of people that have grown up with Lego. Lego first came around in the very late ‘60s, early ’70s. And so it’s not inconceivable that you might have three generations that had Lego as a child, especially if you grew up in Denmark. A little bit different when it would come to the rest of Europe as they expanded out. So I get to this point, and I’m getting into Lego and doing all this sort of stuff. 

And then, of course, COVID happens and then lockdown happens and we all think the world’s going to end and no one knows. Everyone’s looking for hobbies, aren’t they? They say you were either hunk, drunk or chunk after lockdown. You either got fit, got fat or got alcoholic. So try to avoid those three things. And, you know, everyone’s looking for stuff to do, so you have so much banana bread you can bake. And so I stupidly, with my daughter’s help, decided to make the Lego Sutton Hoo helmet, the 1500 year old Sutton Hoo helmet found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, now in the British Museum. Out of Lego, as you do. 

Paul Marden: I mean, just exactly. Just as you do. So just a slight segue. I was at the National Attractions Marketing Conference yesterday and there were two people presenting who both talked about their experiences of wacky things that they did during lockdown. There was one person that opened a theatre in her back garden and had various different stars just randomly turn up in her backyard up in North Yorkshire. And you choose to build a Lego Sutton Hoo helmet.

Andrew Webb: Lockdown, there will be a time, I think, as we look back, tragic though it was, and, you know, a lot of people died, but it was that moment when society sort of shuffled around a bit and people sort of thought, “Well, if I don’t do it now, why not?” People were launching bakeries in their kitchens and serving their community and like. And that element of it. And so people have that. The good side of that, I suppose, is that people did find new outlets of creativity. And Joe Wick’s yoga class is in their front row walking groups, you know, all this sort of stuff and beating beaten horsemans and learning to play the violin and dust and stuff. Suddenly we all had to find hobbies because we’re all just in. 

No one was going to restaurants, no one’s going to bars, no one’s going to gigs, nightclubs, theatres. We like to make entertainment at home. It was like the middle ages. So I decided to build the Lego Sutton Hoo helmet, as you do. And so I start this in lockdown, and then, like, I get wind that Netflix is making a film called The Dig. And The Dig is all about, I think it’s Lily James and Ray Fiennes in it, and it’s all those other people. And it’s all about when they found theSutton Hoo helmet. And the guy who found it was called Basil Brown, and he was asked by Edith Pretty, who owned the land, to excavate these humps in the ground that were on her estate. 

Paul Marden: Okay, so she owns this big estate, in Suffolk, right? And, so she can clearly see there’s burial mounds in the back garden, but doesn’t know what’s in them. Doesn’t have any clue that there’s treasure locked up inside this. 

Andrew Webb: I’m not even sure she knew there were anglo saxon burial maps since it was. 

Paul Marden: They were just lumps of ground in the garden. 

Andrew Webb: Yeah. I mean, she may have had inkling and other stuff I’ve turned up over the years and whatever. And some of them were robbed sort of georgian times around then. So some people knew what they were and they were somewhere excavated and gold was taken to fund the polynomial wars and whatnot. But she asked Basil Branson, he was like an amateur archaeologist, right? And so he was just like this local guy would cycle over and do. And the film goes into all that, and the film kind of portrays it as working class. Basil Brown should know his place against the sort of British Museum who are sort of the baddies in this film who think they know what. And of course, this is all set against the backdrop of war. So they escalated it all, then they had to rebury it. 

And then it was used as a tank training ground, so lots of tanks rolled over it. So it’s a miracle anything was ever found. But when he did find the Sutton Hoo, who told me and a bunch of other things, clasp brooches, shields, weapons and whatever, when he did find it, so people think it kind of popped out the ground as a helmet, but it didn’t. And if you look at the photos, it came out the ground in hundreds of pieces. 

Paul Marden: Oh, really? So you look at this reconstructed mask that’s now in the British Museum, and you think, “Oh, so they just found that in one piece,” lifted out as if it was a Lego hat, you know, for a minifig. In one piece? No, not at all. 

Andrew Webb: It was actually more like a big parlour Lego in the fact that it was just in hundreds of thousands of pieces. And so there was the first guy to have a go at it was an elderly architect at the British Museum who was, I think, blind in one eye. And he had a go at putting it all together. And he used an armature and clay and pins and whatever, put it all together and said, “Yes, I think it was this.” And then actually it wasn’t. He got it all wrong. Lots of different pieces after some more research, and then it falls to this. Nigel Williams is another sub architect, and he was famous for. 

There was a famous Portland vase that was broken in a museum by someone pushing it over as a sort of what you might call, like a just stop oil type of protest now, I can’t remember what the call was, but someone smashed an exhibit. And he had painstakingly pieced all this together. He was a total dapper dude. Three piece suit, Chelsea boots, proper swinging sixties, and he had to go and put it all together. His version is the one that’s in the British Museum, but he was a massive jigsaw fan. And if you think about Lego, what it is a 3d jigsaw. You get a bunch of pieces and you have to make. Make it into a 3d sculpture. So that was one reason, the dig was the other reason. 

The third reason was that the relationship between East Anglia and essentially Denmark and Billand and Anglo Saxon and Jutland and all that area, I’m talking like Vikings and Anglo Saxons and invasions and all this kind of stuff against the native British, there is essentially a relationship between East Anglia, a trade relationship and a conquest relationship between them. So I built this thing and I frantically put it together and I’m late nights and just losing my marbles trying to get this thing to work. Because Lego is not designed to make, like, spherical shapes, necessarily. It’s quite blocky. Right. Everyone knows this. It’s the square. 

Paul Marden: Really easy to make a car, really easy to make a house. A spaceship. 

Andrew Webb: Houses. Brilliant. Yeah. Square stuff is fantastic. But baking, not only a sort of a semicircle, but a hemisphere, which is what essentially a helmet is. Is even harder because you have to get the Lego to bend in two directions. And so a lot of work went into that just to get the actual face piece came together quite easy. And there was once I had the scale of the pieces under the eyes that formed that sort of thing, and then I could build the nose and face. Ideally, it was going to be so that I could put it on my head. I’ve actually got a massive head. So in the end, I had to realign that and sort of make it into this sort of child sized head. 

Paul Marden: But it’s a wearable thing, right? 

Andrew Webb: It is. It is wearable. I mean, at one point, it was probably more fragile than the one in the British Museum because it just kept dropping to pieces. So there’s a lot of sub plates that are holding together the outer plate. So it’s actually sort of. So just quick Lego terminology here. So bricks, obviously are bricks. The flat things with bubbles on are called plates and then the smoother ones are called tiles. Okay. And used a combination of these to create. There’s also a technique called SNOT, which stands for Studs Not On Top. We love acronyms in the Lego community. Right? 

Paul Marden: Completely.

Andrew Webb:  So if you say, “Oh, man, I’m an AFOL covered in SNOT,” people know what you want to know what you mean. So after a night in the tiles, I got covered. Yeah. Anyway, so I make the helmet, I make the thing, and then, you know, I get a lot of support from the National Trust, specifically East of England National Trust and Sutton, who site itself because it’s there. It’s their crown jewels.

The British Museum, not so much, because they was like, we’ve got a billion exhibits here. No, it’s just one of them. When you’ve got the Tippecar moon and the Rosetta stone, it kind of pales into significant. But actually, they were helpful. And one of the curators there, who was on Twitter, who sent me a link to some 3d photos, because if you. If you google it’s all pictures at the front. That’s fantastic. But what does the back look like? 

Paul Marden: Oh, right, okay. 

Andrew Webb: So actually, buried deep in the British Museum’s website, in their research department, under a filing cabinet, in the back of a server somewhere, are some quite technical photographic images of it, turning every sort of 30 degrees so that. That it’s documented as to what it looks. Because you got to remember that everything on the helmet is symbolic of various different things.

There is symbols that mean there’s a guy on a horse who’s sort of fighting and all this sort of stuff. And it all has quite a lot of meaning. I can occur from different parts of history as well. So there’s some sort of roman influencing things there and symbols. And so this whole thing is designed to be not only a battle helmet, but it is also because, remember, crowns haven’t been invented yet. Crowns are a later mediaeval sort of invention. 

So this is both a symbol of authority, headwear, like a crown, but also a weapon or a piece of defensive armour and equipment. So it has several functions in its life. So it’s quite a complex piece of equipment, that this symbol of authority. So I make all this and then I also submit it to a thing called Lego Ideas. So Lego Ideas is a fantastic programme where anybody in the world, members of the public, can submit Lego Ideas, right?

And they go onto a website. There’s certain criteria, they have to meet a certain checklist, but then the rest of the public can vote for them. So, I mean, if Taylor Swift just stuck together a load of blocks and said, “Vote for this,” she probably hit the 10,000 threshold instantly. 

Andrew Webb: But I’m not sure Lego would necessarily take that forward as a build. So there is a judging panel that. But actually, some of the most recent really fantastic sets have come out of Lego Ideas. Members of the public, and they’re designing things that the Lego designers wouldn’t have thought of themselves. So I think that’s been kind of interesting. Sadly, Paul, we didn’t make the 10,000 threshold. We did a lot of media coverage.

By then, lockdown was over and were sort of getting back to our lives and all this sort of stuff. And my daughter was entering her dark ages. And so it sat in my studio for another sort of year and a half and I thought, “What am I going to do with this?” And so in the end, I thought, “Well, you know what? It’s gathering dust here. I’m fed up with it, dustin it.”

And so I actually approached Josh Ward at the National Trust at Sutton Hoo, who has been a fantastic advocate for Lego and for this particular project, and I have to thank him immensely for that. And they got some money and some funding to build a cabinet and also to house it. So I donated it to National Trust and it is now on display there as part of their firmament of interpretational trail. 

Paul Marden: That must feel pretty good fow you. 

Andrew Webb: Yeah, it is quite good looking in there and watching kids go, “Wow.” Because Lego is one of those things instantly recognisable for kids. But certain hill as a site is quite complex for children to contextualise because essentially it’s several mounds in the ground. And the helmet itself is at the British Museum. Right. They’ve got a replica built by the royal armouries. There were several of those. They’ve got those. They have loads of dress up, they have great explainers and videos and they do a lot of work to show the size and shape and things as a cast iron sculpture, to represent the boat, to show just how big it was when it was pulled up from the sea, because he’s buried in a boat. So do a lot of that work, sort of that sort of work as well. 

But having this extra funding in the. They opened up Edith’s pretty’s house now, and having this room where we’ve got some other things as well, like crayons and paper and other tools and drawings and colouring in and Lego and big chest of Lego just helps, particularly smaller children who, by the time they’ve walked from the car park around the site, and it has probably flagged it a little bit.

And so just providing that little support for them, it’s been a fantastic way to contextualise and another way to interpret that. And I think more and more venues could look into that. When you think, well, how else can we add stuff, particularly for children to help tell the story of this place? 

Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We went to. It was half term last week and went to the City Museum in Winchester. So they’ve got some mediaeval, they’ve got some Roman finds there, and there was lots of fun, but they had. It was full of lots of ways for kids to engage, so there was trails to go around, there was colouring in, make your own mediaeval shield. And all of these things are ways that, you know, my ten year old could engage with it because there’s only so many glass cabinets of stuff dug up from the ground that she actually wants to look at. 

Andrew Webb: I mean, I love. I love pit rivers, right, in Oxford, my favourite museum. 

Paul Marden: It’s crazy, isn’t it? I love it. 

Andrew Webb: But basically, he just went around the world nicking stuff. Right, but as a collection of objects, It’s fantastic. 

Paul Marden: It’s deeply unnerving. 

Andrew Webb: Sorry, sorry if any pit rivers curators are listening there, nick, and stuff about it, but, it is my favourite museum because it’s just for kids. It’s probably really kind of like, how do you tell that story? I also think there was an article in the garden recently that, you know, the cost of living crisis as well. Parents are looking for value solutions now and so I think it wasn’t Peppa Pig World, it was Paddington World.

And a family ticket is 170 pounds. That is a huge dent in the family finances for a 70 minutes experience. If you are watching the pennies, if you can afford that and save up for it, whatever. And I know these things are, you know, memory making and all that sort of stuff, and I’ve been to Harry Potter with my daughter. 

That is not cheap, but it’s a fantastic day out because once you’re in, you spend the whole day there. If you take a packed lunch, you can save a lot of money on that, on the thing. But I suppose what I’m saying is that, you know, our museums and galleries, particularly traditionally, the what you might call free spaces, public spaces, are facing unprecedented demand in terms of parents looking for cost effective value days out, as well as funding being cut from central government and that sort of. So they have to do a huge amount with less and less for a bigger audience. And that is a strain on any institution and things like that. Other examples of places that get this. 

So obviously with the Sutton Hoo helmet, the hold in Ipswich, which is Suffolk Council’s kind of flagship museum in the county town of Ipswich, but instead of calling it, you know, the Museum of Suffolk, they’ve called it The Hold, which is a reference to the fact it’s on, I think it’s either because it’s on the shore or it’s doing sheep, I’m not sure anyway. But a fantastic space, contemporary modern space  had a Lego exhibition a few years ago, borrowed my helmet, had some Lego exhibition stuff to do.

And the good thing about that is when these teams have to do quite a lot of comms marketing and, you know, that has a cost as well, but often you see different demographics than perhaps would normally go to a stones and bones museum, if you know what I mean. Right. 

Andrew Webb: You’ll see that it makes it more accessible to the community and to different people who don’t like going and looking at the Magna Carta or whatever. For some kids, a day at the British Library is fantastic. Look at all these old books for more, maybe more boisterous children. That’s probably not a really great idea.

So I think galleries can take a leaf out of this and think, or museums or any institution really can take a leap out of this and think, “How can we do more for less? And what tools can we have that perhaps we haven’t considered before, like Lego, as a way to open up our interpretation and our offering?” So this could work in Museum of Docklands, for example. This could work in the royal armouries. 

There’s lots of places where if you looking to improve your children’s offering that some form of lego, I mean, it ends up all over the floor, it ends up being taken away. Sometimes you’ve got to watch out for things like that. But that’s why I always recommend, like, just the basic blocks and plates, not minifigures and stuff like that, because, you know, they just end up in kids’ pockets and trousers. But I do think it is a fantastic tool for developing that interpretation piece. 


Paul Marden: So I run a coding club using Lego. Okay. So I work with years four, five and six, typically. And we normally start off by the end of two terms, we will be building robotics, programming things, doing amazing things. But we start at the very beginning with just open up a box, and it is amazing what a bunch of seven, eight and nine year olds can do with a two by four red brick just given bricks. Yeah. And they will build amazing things. Yeah. And they will tell you amazing stories. And you also see real diversity in the behaviours of children, because some children, in that free play context, they do not have the skills to do that. And I had one girl recently who hasn’t played with Lego, and free play just blew her mind, and she was in tears because she couldn’t embrace the creativity of it.

But then the following week, when we were following instructions, she was great at building from a set of instructions, You can do that from a limited palette and give them a mission. Sutton Hoo, build a, I don’t know, a sword, build a shield, build something to interpret what you have seen. You’re in the transport museum. Build, build. How did you get to the museum this morning? Give them something to do and then let them go. And half an hour later, you will be amazed by what they will have built. 

Andrew Webb: I actually did something this at the National Archives down in Kew, where they had a kids exhibition. Well, an exhibition in the summer about wacky inventions, because obviously the National Archives holds the patents for all these things, and they’ve got things like Victorian top hats with umbrellas in, and, you know, all this kind of crazy Heath Robinson style stuff that, you know, forks with four sets of tines, so you can eat four times as much. It just bonkers. Really interesting things. The curators had gone through and found this wacky world, sort of. What’s his name? The guy that illustrates Roald Dahl. They got illustrations and all that. 

Paul Marden: Quentin Blake. 

Andrew Webb: Yeah, Quentin Blake, yeah. So they had this Quentin Blake sort of stuff, and, like, there was activities. And I came down for some special stuff because they had the first Lego brick patent in the UK. When it was first launched in the UK, 1963, I think it was. That’s when they filed the patent. 

Paul Marden: And I bet. So that patent would be exactly the same as a two by four brick, now, won’t it? 

Andrew Webb: The patent was for a one by four brick. Isometrically dawn. Just three diets. Just three views with what? It was a construction toy. And then the page. Sorry. And the address was just Railway Station Billund.  There wasn’t like, just all the mail just went to the railway station in Billund just addressed for attention of Lego. And it’s only like. I mean, it’s not even a sheet of A4, It’s a piece like this.

And after it is something like a lamp that won’t blow out on a thing, and before it’s like some special kind of horse comb, but it’s kind of this bonkers catalogue of just these things. But again, it was about, “Right. We did some work. The curators and interpreters looked, you know, had kids analyse the painting to think, what could it be? And look at the dates and structure. Look at that.” 

And then I came out and, like, did some Lego. So we did things like, who can build the longest bridge? Who can build the tallest tower out of a single colour? Those sorts of exercises. But then also the free play was build your own wacky invention. And kids are building automatically dog washers, where the dog ran on a thing and it scrubbed its back. And one kid built something that was like a thing for removing getting pips out of apples. It was just like this sort of like this crazy little tool. They like some sort of problem that he had. 

Andrew Webb: And I think what this also speaks to is developing those STEM skills in children and adults and building that engineering, because I’ve also ran Lego workshops with explorers who I used to, I thought were between Cubs and scouts, but are actually after scouts. So I did this in my local town, here in Saffron Walden, and was like, “Oh, my God, these kids are like, 15, 16. They’re not going to want to play Lego. Some of them are in my daughter’s year at school, so. Hello, Amy.”

And it was really interesting because we did a series of challenges with them. So the egg drop challenge, can you protect an egg and drop it from the floor? And can you build this and work together? Another good one is looker, runner, builder.

So you give everybody two sets of the same bricks, and one person is the looker, one person is the runner, one person is the builder. So the looker can’t touch, but he can tell the runner. The runner can’t look at the model, he can only tell the builder, and the builder can’t speak back. And so this is a really useful exercise. And I’ve done this with teams where, because this is exactly what businesses see, engineering will build a product. Sales or their marketing are like, what the hell is, you know, or whatever it might be. 

Paul Marden: It’s that. It’s that classic cartoon of a Swing, yeah. 

Andrew Webb: Yeah. So it’s that, you know, this is what the brief said. Engineering interpreter does this. Marketing saw it. So it’s a great tool for things like that. Especially when you put people like the C Suite or CEO’s or leaders at the end, because all they’re getting is the information and it. It’s there and it’s how to build communications. Because in life, the fluctuations reverse. A CEO says, “Let’s do this.” And by the time it’s cascaded down to engineering, who don’t get a say, it’s not at all what he imagined so, or they imagined so, it’s. It’s an interesting case of using tools like that. So I did that with these kids and it was fascinating because they’re 14, 15, 16.

A group of three girls won two out of the three challenges and probably could have won a third one if I felt that I couldn’t award it to them again because it would just look weird. And they were smashing the looker runner builder thing. They were working together as a team, they were concentrating, they were solving problems, they were being creative, they took some time to prototype, they refined and iterated their design.

They were doing all this sort of work. And it’s brilliant because 15 year old girls don’t often take engineering related STEM subjects at GCSE. Certainly, probably don’t take them at a level and more than enough. And I think that I once interviewed Eben Upton, who invented Raspberry Pi, and he said, “We think about the eighties as this sort of like golden age of computing, but actually it was terrible. It was terrible for diversity, it was terrible for inclusion.“

And he said, “Like growing up, there was one other kid in his town that had a computer, you know, so there was no sort of way to sort of getting other people involved and make this accessible.” And part of the reason now computers have got smaller. Some of the work I did at Pytop was like trying to make technology more accessible and seeing it not just video games and things like that, but actually I can use this in a fashion show, or I can make music, or I can use this to power some lights to do a theatre production, and trying to bring the, I guess, the creative arts into technology. And that’s when we start to see the interest application of technology. 

Andrew Webb: And Lego plays a part in that, in the fact that it is a tool, a rapid prototyping tool that everybody is familiar with. And it is also, you know, clean, safe. There’s no, you don’t need blow torches and saws and those sorts of things to kind of prototype anything. You don’t even need a pair of scissors, you know, it’s completely tool free, unless you’re using that little mini separator to get your bricks apart. And so I think that just circle back on, like, how the Science Museum or what’s the one down there? Isabel Kingdom Brunel Museum and things like that. I can see those guys could be and should be thinking about, “How could we have a Lego programme?“

You don’t have to have a permanent deployment like they’ve got at Sutton Hoo although that is great because they’ve got the mast there as the head piece of it. But certainly a programme of events or summer camps or summer events, because I did this with English Heritage at Kenilworth Castle as well. They were having, like, a big Lego build and the public were invited in 15-minute shifts into a big marquee and everyone got given a tile.

And the idea was to build the gardens because the gardens at Kenilworth Castle were laid out to impress Elizabeth the first. And so everybody got there was like bunches of stuff and regular bricks, also flowers and this sort of stuff. And it was like, “Come on, we’ve got to build something to impress a queen.” 

He said to kids, like, “Yeah, you’ve got to impress. Bling it up, like, dial it to ten.” And were just getting these enormous, like, avatar sized trees with just incredible bits hanging off it. And like, “There she has a teapot because she might want a cup of tea.” And you’re like, “Brilliant, excellent. Of course she does.”  And so I think that. And then they moved through.

Some of the Legos were selected to be displayed and things like that. So there’s different ways you can do it. You can either do it as like. And I’m a big fan of the drop in sessions because kids and parents can just naturally build it into their day rather than the pre built. My child was. We were rubbish at, like, organising things. 

Andrew Webb: People like, “Oh, great. Half term, it’s a chocolate thing, sold out “. And you’re like, yeah, because there’s 30 spaces for three and a half thousand kids who want to do it. Whereas if it’s like a walkthrough or a. In groups phase through and then the activity, small kids kind of conk out after about 20 minutes, half an hour anyway. You get much more people through and much more people get to enjoy the experience rather than the 30 organised people who got up early and booked.

So that’s my other top tip to any institution, because it’s heavily weather dependent as well. Sun comes out, everyone piles pass into the nearest sort of stately home, national attraction. All of those places can definitely benefit English Heritage. Did a really big push this half term, just gone on Lego at several events.

We had one here at Audley End, there was one at Kenilworth that I was at. There’s been pairs of the ones all around the country, because again, you just need a marquee, which most venues have access to because they use them for other things or some sort of space in case it rains. And you just see someone like me and a whole massive tub of Lego and you’re off to the races. 

Paul Marden: Exactly. So we were talking about this at the conference yesterday about ways in which. So for many attractions, people turning up is a literal flip of a coin. Is the weather good or is the weather bad? What can you do to adapt your attraction to be able to deal with when it’s bad? And then what can you do to bring people when you have made that adaptation? So, you know, you’ve now got a marquee and you have a Lego exhibit that you can put into there. So it’s just dumping a pile of Lego and a bunch of well trained volunteers or visitor experienced people who can facilitate that, police it, little Johnny sticking minifigs in his pocket. 

And then you turn on your Google Adwords and show that you’ve got this, you know, bad weather reason to go to a stately home that my daughter would turn her nose up to all of a sudden, “Okay, we’re going to go and do that. We’re going to go and have afternoon tea and you’re going to go and play with some Lego and see some animals, maybe.” Yeah, what can you do to attract that extra audience and adapt to the bad weather and service different sorts of people? 

Andrew Webb: I think that comes down to a bear in mind. I convert some of my Lego lens rather than a venue lens. But I think speaking as a parent and someone who does this is you need a reason to go back to somewhere that you already know. Okay, so you go to Stonehenge, you go and look at the stones, you go, “Wow.” You look at the visitor centre and then it’s ticked off.

I mean, you see busloads of tourists. Stonehenge is at Cambridge, maybe, or Oxford people, when people do England, Lambeth, Heathrow, London Crown Jewels, Tower Bridge, West End, day trip out on a coach to Stonehenge, maybe to Cambridge, and that’s it, off to Paris. Right? So parents like British people like that too. Like why go to Stonehenge four times a year? Or why go to any venue when you’re familiar with it? 

It’s always about offering something new and something different. Audley End up near where I live, I think, is English Heritage. All through July, every Sunday, they’re just doing music. So there’s a string quartet or someone with a harp or maybe someone with a guitar or whatever. And you’ve got a book, but it’s. It’s not like there’s 30 places and it’s a bonfight.

It’s just like, “Oh, wow, they’ve done something different.” They do a really great thing. Like, they do victorian falconry, for example. So they get someone in who talks about how Victorians use falconry for hunting as a sport, but also for the kitchen table, and they’re flying falcons around and doing the whole bit of meat on a string and all this sort of stuff. And everyone, like, “They do a world war two one.”

I mean, the editorial calendar for any venue’s got to look like, “Go and make Christmas food. January, we’re closed to kind of dust and clean everything. Valentine’s Day, chocolate make you put. It’s daffodils”, it’s whatever it might be. And then you just build that. Build that programme in and you need. This is why I think that venues now, again, I’ll just come back to that.

You talk about AdWords, but that, again, is more spend. It’s like, how’d you build that mail list? How do you drop into the local Facebook groups and Mumsnet and all that kind of stuff? You know, that’s where you can do it organically rather than. Because people don’t sit in front of Google necessarily, or think, like, what should we do? 

Paul Marden: You sit on the sofa on a Thursday night trying to figure out what on earth are we going to do this weekend? Yeah, so you’re completely right. The mum’s net, the content marketing, is hugely important, isn’t it? 

Andrew Webb: Which is my job. But also it’s kind of like how can institutions become part of that? When I say community, if you think about most people travel a thin hour to go somewhere. I mean, people go further afield, you know, but. But basically it’s like, what? My mom turns, like, a tea and a pee. So you’ve got to go somewhere. You’ve got to have a cup of tea, visit the loos. It’s all about tea.

It’s all about canteens and loos, basically. You could have a World Heritage Site, UNESCO World Heritage site. And it’s like, how good’s the cafe? And are the toilets clean? Yeah, that’s what people remember. Gar went hens at dawn. I was awed by the majestic. But that Looney D cleaning, you know, it’s not good. It’s all that people come home with. 

So, you know, institutions go into place that they are trying to offer different things. Like late nights. We’ve talked about that. How can we use this space after hours? Because if you think about it, if your institution’s open 10 till 6, most people are at work five days a week, you’re gonna have students and pensioners who are gonna be not great spenders, either of those two groups.

So, late nights, I went to a great one in the National Gallery when the James Bond film. I was kind of sitting royale or whatever. He’s still on the top of the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square, and they’ve got the national dining rooms there and they had Vesper Martini, everyone got a cocktail. 

Andrew Webb: And then went to look at the fighting Temeraire, which is the bit where he’s standing with Q, the new Q, who voices Paddington, whose name escapes me and gives him, like, a gun and a radio, but they’re like the fighting Temeraire by Turner is this little thing. And so, you know, you’ve got to make hay out of that, right? You’ve got to sort of, like, do a late night, various ones. And so all it was a few cocktails in the cafe next door and are taught by the curator and stuff like that. But 30 people just looking for an experience. And so if venues are clever, of course, the dark side of this is when you get Willy Wonka world up in Scotland.

Or interestingly, some of the Lego events that have been happening at NEC have caused a massive online backslash in the community for just being exceptionally bad value for money. And so you read about these things that people have said, “Come and visit Santa’s grotto, and it’s just a muddy field with a tree in it,” so you’ve got to be careful.

But I think those events, those sort of fly by night kind of institutions, don’t really work. But how galleries can leverage the creativity of what they’re doing? Whether they are come and paint in our, you know, our local gallery, come and have an art class, come and do that. People are looking for stuff to do that is value for money. That isn’t always drink lead, you know, it’s not always cocktail making or things like that. 

And that comes with a whole heap of other things and dietary requirements for cookery courses and just clean up and the mess and all that kind of stuff. So I think that, yeah, canning organisations, the ones that can really think about that, and I’m happy to help organisations who want to think about this, especially through the life of Lego. They will be the ones that will start to add and build out and develop their. What you might term this whole sector needs a name. The kind of extracurricular offering, we might say, above and beyond their collection and then their traditional interpretation and if they’re. 

Paul Marden: Thinking of doing this. So there’s a good why. Yeah, the why is you can reach diverse audiences, helps people with interpretation. 

Andrew Webb: Quite cheap. 

Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a cheap way of extending your offering and diversifying what you do. You can bring in event elements to this, but how do they do it? Apart from engaging with somebody like you? And I’m going to guess there’s not many people like you. So that’s going to be a tricky thing for some people to do. But if they were starting from scratch, how would they go about doing this? You said earlier, “Don’t go mad with buying the bricks and spending a fortune on.”

Andrew Webb: There are people like me that can do all this as well as myself. I think that the first thing is plan it. Plan what you need to do. You can’t throw this stuff together. You might be looking at. Already the hold have been contacting me for a late night they’re doing in September. They contacted me April. 

Paul Marden: Okay. 

Andrew Webb: Because if you’re a creator, you’re planning exhibitions, you are thinking on that long term cycle. 

Paul Marden: Yeah, completely. 

Andrew Webb: And so what you need to do is bake this in as part of that curational process or part of the interpretation of things at the start, rather than like, “Right, we’re doing exhibit on Peter Rabbit, let’s chuck in a load of fluffy bunnies or whatever.” You know, it’s got to be. You’ve got to think about it and have it contextualised. I think the best things are. What success looks like is, first of all, you need a space. Now you can hire a marquee that comes with a cost.

If you’re a venue and you’ve got your own or you’ve got a hall or a stables or interpretational room or something like that, often spaces, specifically bigger ones, will have classroom spaces for school groups anyway. So that’s often that can be where you can host these sorts of events. Kids are very familiar. The chairs are all small wall colour, you know, etc. Industrial strength carpet in case stuff gets built. So locations like where you’re going to stage this? 

Paul Marden: Yeah. 

Andrew Webb: Secondly, I think you need to think about, what do we want people to do? What is the experience? What is the narrative piece? Because you can’t just say, here’s a big part of Lego. Kids will just build cars and houses, right? You know, they need context. You know, if you give a kid a sheet of paper, you could draw anything. They’re like, well, what?

And so you need to give them a mission almost. They need a task, I think. Also think about, as I said before, keeping the tasks around 20 minutes, because actually adding the time running out jeopardy element is quite fun for kids because they’ll go, “Well, I’ve only got five minutes left.” And often that’s when it all falls apart and then they have to iterate the design. 

So think about that kind of moving people through in 15 to 20 minutes cycles. We had kids at Kenilworth, that would go out the exit and just walk back around and come in the front like that. Like four or five times. One boy came in, he was loving it. So think about that. Think about how you’re going to move people through the space. Think about what you need to envisage it.

So the Kenilworth, for example, there was me hosting it from dawn toward dusk. We had another builder there who was helping take break it all down and put them against the model that we built. There were two members of staff who were letting people through, so just monitoring it from an entry exit point of view, walkie talkies, in case people had issues and things like that. 

Andrew Webb: And think about when you’re going to do it. Okay, so half term is a good one. It’s a good thing to do. We saw a lot of this at Kenilworth, but I’ve seen other places as well, particularly half terms and things like that. You often see grandparents caring for grandchildren, right? Because parents are at work and grandparents can only walk around the site so much before they want to sit down.

So sometimes have it, like, think about where they can. And when I was at Kenilworth, grandparents came in with their two grandkids, and the kids started playing and I was like, you could join in, too. Oh, no, I don’t want it. You know, they were almost like, “I can’t do this. It’s like, come on, get in, get in. Come on, grandma. Come on. I’ll show you how it works. “

By the end of that session, they were memory making. I then took their photo with their phones, they’d have this sort of grandparent. But, you know, you always say it like, my grandfather taught me to fish. Like Sean Connery says in the hunt for red October. This sort of moment where sort of, it’s a Hollywood trope that grandfather knowledge is sort of passed on type of thing. Right.

And so you can see that where you could have this, almost either the reverse of that, of kids showing grandparents, but also they’re all having this event outside of the parental unit. So it’s a new type of experience. It adds value, it gets people to play with their grandkids. 

Paul Marden: Priceless. 

Andrew Webb: So I think that’s kind of an interesting way. So think about when, think about where and think about what will be my three sort of tips for any institution looking to put this together. 

Paul Marden: You gave one the other day which I thought was priceless, which was, don’t give them wheels. 

Andrew Webb: Oh, yes. 

Paul Marden: Don’t include the wheels. 

Andrew Webb: Take the wheels out of any sets, unless you are the Transport Museum or the, you know, a car based museum, because kids will do wings as well. I’d probably suggest taking those out because kids have just built cars. Some kids have just built cars, you know, even if you give them a mission. Unless that is the mission. The other thing that I would think that venues could do as well as sort of all day events, because it’s quite a time drain, you know, on staff and this sort of stuff, but it is a value.

The other thing you can think about is one off evening events for adults. Yes, I’ve done this. I did this at my local add them shops. Bricks, beers and bubbles challenges supercompass teams. Think of it like a pub quiz with brick is the answer. 

So build me a thing that does that kind of thing. Teams all get together, you can race them, you can see who goes the furthest. You can do all this stuff. And the hold is what I’m doing at the hold in September. I did it at the hold a couple of years ago. And what was interesting was that we had quite diverse groups of adults.

We had just couples who were clearly AFOLs and were like, “Yeah, I’m going to go to that.” We had a group of friends. One of them had just come back from years travelling and they didn’t want to go sort of straight to the pub and just interrogate him about his travelling, whatever. 

They kind of like, “Well, we wanted something to do where we could have a beer and have a chat, but were doing something else whilst we’re doing that.” And that’s the joy of Lego. Your hands are doing the work and you’re almost like the back of your brain is doing the work and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. Before you kick them.”

And the concentration levels are there and then you can kind of get into that state of flow. And so they were just having this lovely chat, had a beer, talking about stuff, but also memory making in terms of when he came back from his travelling. So I think that’s really important. 

Andrew Webb: Did you know that this is your brain, right? And then your brain on Lego, there are 24 discrete skills that are happening in your brain. So Lego researched this, things like fine motor skills, cognitive sort of thinking about things, future planning, my favourite emotional regulation that is not going, “Oh, my God, it’s not working. And smashing all to pieces.” So I’ve seen this as well with children, is that when you give them a Lego, if you gave them jelly and a football, they’ll all just.

They’re a high energy kind of things, right? And that’s fine, great outdoors, kids want to burn off energy. Here’s a load of balls. Go crazy, right? Or ball pits, trampolines, bouncy castles, those sorts of things. When you get on Lego, what actually happens is it’s very hard to be anarchic, to use a wrong word, but a word. It’s very hard to be anarchic with Lego because you can’t really do it.

And so you can get a group of kids together and they’ll almost self invigilate. And at one point, I ran it at a local toy shop and the parents are all hanging about and like, “I’ve never seen them so quiet.” They were just in the state of flow. And so, I think, you know, again, back to the. Back to the explorers and the scouts, that was one of the best sessions that those kids had done as teenagers because the reason was they were given permission to play with Lego.

They still had the muscle memory from when they were smaller children. They were solving. They weren’t just being told to play with Lego, they were actually solving engineering challenges. How can you design a bridge that will take this weight? How can you protect an egg? How can you think about this? 

And so you need to think about the challenge and the what. You need to think about that, the where and you think about the when, as I said, and get those right. You can have a very exceptional visitor experience for not a huge amount of effort. It’s not highly costly, it’s not highly technical, it’s just a bit of elbow grease and a bit of forward thinking in terms of what we might need.

And I think that parents appreciate just that minute away where they can. It’s almost like a 20 minute babysitter, right, where they can just go, “Don’t touch that.” You know, you’re walking around a stately home, “Don’t sit there, don’t touch. Mind the lady.” All that kind of no data that parents give out institutions, they can just take a breather and check their phones and whatever. 

Paul Marden: And the kids are just having an amazing time. 

Andrew Webb: Yeah. And the kids are happy. And at the end of the day, as a parent, we all do our best and you just want, you know, them to be playing with something screen free, getting along and learning something. And, you know, that is the win. That is the ultimate takeout. You can layer on your own institution in context and rev up the visitor experience, bring in new visitors, attract a more diverse group of people that perhaps wouldn’t normally come to a Regency Rococo style villa or whatever it might be, then that’s all to the better, because, you know, you can start to use this in your planning and you can do what Suntton Hoo did? And go, right, well, we’ve done this and it’s really worked. 

And then I can apply for funding for it and I can expand and I can make it permanent and then I can sort of say, well, this now becomes a tool and a string and arbo for our educational. It doesn’t have to be split between visitor attractions and development. It can, you know, you can split it between several parts of the institution and use it in different ways, use it for educational purposes as well as visitor experience. So the world’s your oyster with a bit of thinking. 

Paul Marden: With a bit of Lego and a bit of thinking. 

Andrew Webb: Bit of Lego, yeah. A few bricks and a couple of tricks and you’re off to the races. 

Paul Marden: Andrew, this has been brilliant. Thank you ever so much. 

Andrew Webb: You’re welcome. 

Paul Marden: I’ve got one more question for you before we finish. Now, you bottled this earlier on when I said we always have a book recommendation from our guests. And in spite of having the fullest bookshelf I’ve seen in quite a long time, you’ve bottled it on a book. But you did offer me a favourite movie. And so what would be your movie recommendation of choice? 

Andrew Webb: My go to movie would probably be Withnail and I, Richard E. Grant’s first film. Every line has came down from God on a tablet. I mean, it is just. Yeah. Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty, Paul McGann. It’s just one of my favourite films and, you know, cult classic that no one’s really. Well, people have heard of it now, but again, they even make stuff out with Alan Eyright. So you can go and watch a screening of it at the farm at Crow Crag up in Penrith, you know, and everyone dresses up and everyone comes with Mister blathering sets tea and I come on holiday by mistake and Jessie says, Danny. 

And, you know, fortunately, for better or for worse, I know these are tough times, but people try and find the fun in things. They try and at the end of the day, everyone’s looking for a good time, whether we’re children or an adult. You want something to just have a laugh and take you away for a moment. And if films and culture but also experiences can do that, then that’s all for the good. 

Paul Marden: Well, look, this is going to be a challenge, but listeners, if you would like a copy of Andrew’s film recommendation, then when we release the show message on X, if you can retweet that and say, “Give me Andrew’s movie”, then the first person that does that, somehow I will get the movie to you. It might be on VHS, it might be on DVD, but somehow we will get you a movie. 

Andrew Webb: I found a CD the other day from a bar I used to go to in Clapham in the noughties and late ‘90s. I said to my mate, look, I’m great, put it on. And I went, “I can’t.” I haven’t got a CD player anymore. I had to go dig through a box somewhere in the study to find a portable CD player that plugged into my computer that could. By the end of it, we’re just laugh. Forget it. 

Paul Marden: Andrew, this has been wonderful. Thank you ever so much. 

Andrew Webb: You’re welcome. Cheers. 



Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

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