It is with great sadness that I write to say that Jenny Bland, founder of The History Van, lost her brave battle with Motor Neurone Disease on 12th June 2020. Below I have written a piece to help remember her, but would also like to say that her family have set up a JustGiving page to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield where she was cared for, with such love and kindness, and allowed to be with her family in her final days. The link is here…
Jenny was a force of energy and brought light and laughter wherever she went. She first came up with the idea for The History Van in 2013. After a career in teaching (SCIENCE!!) and then working for more than 15 years with local museums including Kelham Island and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, she had acquired a lot of stuff and needed something to do with it! One business grant later, she had bought a Van, packed it with all her treasures (a collection she continually added to) and started driving out to local schools, predominantly in the Peak District where she lived.
Her ethos was to bring the museum to children and help them find their place in national history by linking key changes and developments to the lives of ordinary people in their area. Because of this, and Jenny’s boundless enthusiasm and sheer hard work, the Van became well known in rural Derbyshire and expanded into the surrounding areas including Sheffield.
In late 2017, happy chance brought Jenny and I together after a rigorous rehearsal for Dore Gilbert & Sullivan Society, of which we were both members. As we were chatting, she and I worked out that we would make a perfect partnership as she looked to step back towards retirement and I wished to use my skills as a History teacher in a different way. In June 2018 the partnership was formed.
A month later, news came of her diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease. Although Jenny was not able to attend workshops with me, the partnership was still going strong, with many a cup of tea and slice of cake being consumed whilst we went through the boxes and boxes (and yet more boxes) of artefacts and replicas and chatted about the next steps for The History Van.
The legacy that Jenny has left with The History Van is immense. There are so many schools that ask about her when I attend, have pupils from older year groups come and talk of her workshops that they experienced with such enthusiasm, and there will be many more that go into adulthood with memories of ‘that day when I became a Roman soldier’ or ‘that day I milked a sheep!’. I am so honoured to be part of that legacy now, and humbled by the trust she showed in me by taking the ‘wheel’. Jenny is certainly not gone, she will forever be in my mind whenever I get in the Van, travelling off to whatever century it is that day. The History Van still has two drivers.
If you have any memories of Jenny and her workshops I would love to hear them and I can pass them onto her family as well. If you wish to send a message, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.