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At ease with Patrick

Kevin Berry is impressed by Patrick Tostevin, the gentle curator of Ribchester Roman Museum.

Ribchester is a peaceful Lancashire village in the Ribble valley, off the beaten track. The remains of Roman baths and granaries are a short walk from the local Roman museum.

The museum building, built on the site of an important Roman fort, is small. But children can put on replica Roman armour and handle genuine artefacts. There are colourful graphic walls and inlaid displays. Larger items are placed to catch the eye. And curator Patrick Tostevin (pictured) makes children feel comfortable. They enjoy talking to him. He is not a flamboyant personality, but reassuring, like an ideal elder brother.

Jean Lonsdale, a teacher at Padiham Green primary, has been bringing pupils to Ribchester for ten years. Her Year 4 are spread around the building, all thoroughly absorbed.

"Patrick puts them at ease," she says. "He never talks down to them. We are a local school, so the children feel as though it's part of them when they've been here."

Patrick is an archaeology graduate. When he was working on a dig in Ribchester, the previous curator put out a call for help. Patrick volunteered and became curator himself in 1993. He is the only full time employee of the museum. Watching him talk to children at the Roman baths site, I am struck by the number and quality of the questions coming from children. How does he explain their confidence and interest?

"Treating them with respect," he says. "I hope it doesn't sound too cliched, but I always respond to a question as if it has been asked for the first time."

David Banner, a teacher at St Hilda's RC high school in Colne, brings 150 Year 7 pupils each year. "Patrick is so flexible. He doesn't assume, he can divert," Mr Banner says. "If the children haven't covered something, he makes sure that they understand."

Despite the setting, Patrick has resisted the temptation to stage one-man historical recreations. "I'm not an actor," he says. "I think that it's far better for me to be a 21st-century museum curator. Then I can make a clear distinction between the past and the present. Trying to pass myself off as Julius Caesar will only confuse the children."

Contact Ribchester Roman Museum is between Blackburn and Preston, just off the A59. Tel: 01254 878261. Wheelchair access. Cost: pound;2 per child. Adults free.

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