Art & History

Explaining History – And Firing a Steam Train

Have you ever watched someone at work and wondered how they got there, or why they do what they do all day long?
Laura works as an explainer at the UK’s biggest train museum – the National Railway Museum in York. It may seem that steam trains and young women do not go together, but Laura loves it. She spoke to Joanne to explain how she became an explainer, and what she does all day.

“I’ve been an explainer at the NRM since September 2011. Explainers do all of the talks, presentations and science shows for the public and also work with visiting school groups. Until I started here I knew very little about trains. I applied for this job because it offered the chance to work in a museum, which is something I’d not done before, and it seemed as though it would tie in well with my interest in science.




I got the job because I’ve got a background in science and I’ve worked with the public and children at a tourist attraction before – my last job was as Education Officer at a zoo. I studied Chemistry at university, did a masters degree and also a teaching qualification. A university degree isn’t a must for this job although a lot of us have one. The most important thing is being able to communicate well with the public – good presentation skills. If you like talking to people and being in front of an audience it’s definitely a career to consider.


I also really enjoy the science shows we do and some of the more science-based talks. Sometimes when the museum’s quiet the days can go quite slowly because there aren’t as many visitors to talk to; I prefer it when it’s busy. You also do get some very sexist attitudes at times from some of the visitors; they assume that if you’re female you don’t know anything about how things work!


As well as my full-time explainer role, I am also a fireman on the steam locomotives that we have here. Every day during the school holidays we have an engine in steam, pulling passenger rides for visitors up and down our yard. There’s a small group of people – all of whom either work at the museum now or used to – who act as the drivers and firemen on these steam trains. I trained as a fireman starting in December last year and passed my exams in May. Now that I’ve passed I get paid for coming in on my days off to be a fireman. I really enjoy my days on the engine as a fireman. I never thought I’d end up learning how to drive a steam locomotive so it’s been a real perk of the job.


As for the future, I’d like to continue working in a similar job, where I get to deal with the public and school groups but I’d also like to be more involved in planning the activities being delivered. It could be in another museum, a zoo or environmental education centre or some other tourist attraction – the great thing about having a love of science is it links to so much other stuff!”



Joanne Brady is the editor of Kids Days Out Reviews, a website which recommends great family days out around the UK. She is mum to four girls and spends a lot of time visiting places from parks to museums and zoos. She also works as a copywriter and online media manager. 




Photo Credit – Kippa Matthews and National Railway Museum







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