“Within my role as Audience Development Officer for Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums I have had to really think about the audience that the museums currently work with and carefully considering which new audiences we would like to engage. As I am sure many of you are aware we have to be selective in order to put the best efforts into our audience development work and ensure both audience and museum has a quality experience.
With this in mind I was really looking forward to hearing from museums working with different audiences and the best ways to approach this and again SHARE delivered a useful and informative day.
The day took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge which was a great location. We started with a fantastic session from Jacqui Strawbridge from the Fitzwilliam learning team and Fran Bailey from Wintercomfort talking about their partnership working to provide sessions in the museum for homeless individuals. The best part about the session was that we visited galleries in the museum and in groups thought about the museum as an environment. For us as museum professionals we are often very comfortable in a museum environment so it was great to get us all thinking about people’s emotions, thoughts and feelings when entering a museum gallery.
We also heard from Kevin Daniells, Senior Social Worker at Norfolk County Council and Ruth Farnan from the Stories of Lynn project about working with looked after children. Both emphasised that everyone has the right to visit museums and that we probably already offer activities and events that would be great for this audience but foster families may not be aware of our work.
Another session focused on autism. Robert Pritchett, Director NAS Autism Accreditation and Ellen Lee an Education Officer, focused on autism and the Autism Access Award. Here we heard about the awards and how museums could self-assess themselves to see how autism friendly they are. Ellen emphasised that museums can’t do anything but little changes can make a big difference.
Finally Steph Parmee, Learning Officer at Gainsborough’s house and Juliet Lockhart, Artistic Director at Art in Mind gave us a chance to get hands on. Gainsborough house has been hosting art sessions inspired by museum objects for people experiencing mental health. Juliet and Steph led activities where we got to try out some of the sessions they used within their staff training.
There were some very clear points that came out of the day which I will summarise below:
- Partnership working is essential. This ensures skills sharing and that museums are supported by workers who know the individuals and can assist in sessions
- This encompasses a lot; from training all staff, to having pre visits with workers from partner organisations and having plans a,b and c for possible situations, patience and willingness to understand.
- As mentioned above as museum professionals we are comfortable in this environment but a lot of these different audiences and the public more generally have never been to a museum before.
The key thing that encompasses all this is that everyone has the right to visit a museum and to enjoy their experience. What we need to provide are fun experiences that are separate from the audience’s day to day life and access to usual services. This may enable them to create new memories away from their past and therefore enrich their futures”.
For information details of future SHARE training events, visit their on-line training calendar.