Top Tips: Making Best Use Of Your School Desks

desk 2

Jos Binns, Treasurer at Radstock Museum, recently sent us the following article how the museum has used some clever ‘upcycling’ to turn their collection of old school desks into unusual display cases…

 Somerset Coalfield Life at Radstock Museum celebrates how communities lived in the Somerset Coalfield area over the last few hundred years.

The Museum is housed in a converted Grade 2 listed Market Hall and as with many museums, space is at a premium.  One of the displays is a recreation of a typical Victorian schoolroom complete with serried ranks of old desks. Whilst the schoolroom is a wonderful setting for school educational visits, it takes a up a lot of valuable space and doesn’t contain much in the way of displays of related material.

We realised that inside all the desks there was unused space so we decided to investigate how to use this for displays. The exciting thing about displays in the desks is that they can be “discovered’ by visiting children and can be filled with items that are linked to schooling over the ages.


There were issues to be overcome; how to install the displays so that they were easily visible but were not exposed to damage; how to ensure that small children didn’t crush their fingers with the lids; and how to install displays with no impact on the desks themselves.

After a few re-iterations of the design we settled on a final version and had one made by a local firm. This was agreed to be ideal for what we wanted and so we committed to a set of 10, which were funded in part by a grant from the Quartet Foundation.

The photographs show the module outside of the desks and then the module as installed. The 2 strange fingers on either side are the safety features that automatically flip up when the desk lid is opened and then stop the lid from shutting onto children’s fingers. They work by gravity and are easily reset should the desk lid need to be fully closed.

The module is secured inside the desk from underneath, using a small access hole which all the desks have in their bases. The wooden display base in the module is about A3 sized and can easily be split from the Perspex case if the display needs to be changed or adjusted.

The total cost of a module should be under £100. Should any other museum have desks that are they want to use for displays then Radstock Museum would be happy to share the design with you.

Contact Jos at:

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