AIM Conference 2018: Changing Gear

Caroline Hamson, Heritage Collections Officer for The Scouts, shares her experiences of this year’s Association of Independent Museums Conference.

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Diversity was the focus of the first day, or as Shaz Hussain suggested, representation not diversity. Hannah Fox the Derby Silk Mill Project Director discussed how imperative it is to design exhibitions/museums/sites alongside your communities. You must have human centred design which focuses on think, do and feel. The top down approach is out of touch and more importantly, is not impactful.

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Victoria Rogers from Cardiff Story Museum gave us a run-down of the top 10 tips for building and diversifying audiences, with the mantras, ‘Ask, Listen, Act’, ‘Live your commitment’ and ‘Review, Learn, Amend, Grow’.

A tour of the new collections store at Gaydon was an eye opener, what a magnificent facility! It even includes a full view of the workshop where staff and volunteers maintain and repair the vehicles. A facility which means 100% of their collection (bar the archive) is on display. What a dream.

 

It’s also where I found my next car…..

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On day two we learnt about the free stuff and resources that are available to us as AIM members. The free resources through the, ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ project which will help museums of all sizes increase the diversity of their visitors to make real and lasting change in the museum sector. And a new three-year partnership with the Charity Finance Group means AIM members can sign up to receive advice, trouble shooting, resources, all for free!

A fascinating talk by Sue Davies told about the positive impact understanding your type of museum can have. Club, temple, forum or attraction? Understanding this can lead to better management by adapting your leadership style; leader, facilitator, guardian or business manager.

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What did I learn? To be the best we can be and serve our communities we must listen, really listen, don’t impose our ideas on people, be open to criticism, have a great sense of purpose and vision which is shared by everyone, and be willing to try and test ideas without fear of failure.

SHARE Creative Communities Network

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Does your museum want to work more closely with local communities? Do you want to bring in new visitors, improve your reach and build relationships? Diversifying audiences and giving ownership to local communities are both priorities for HLF and Arts Council and this network is a way to bounce around ideas with colleagues, learn from each other and hear about funding and other opportunities. We will meet quarterly through the year and help shape the SHARE programme around community participation.

Our first meeting will be in September at Ipswich Museum. We will be focusing on the new OFBYFOR ALL self-assessment tool and we would ask that attendees’ museums have completed the assessment ahead of the meeting, preferably as a team rather than an individual on their own and ideally including some of your community partners in the process.

In addition to join the network mailing list, please email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk. Additionally, please can you let us have your availability for September by completing this poll   

– Amy Cotterill (Essex MDO) and Eleanor Root (Colchester and Ipswich Museums)

#OFBYFORALL: A Revolutionary Opportunity

Nina Simon and Amy Cotterill

Nina Simon from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History with Amy Cotterill, Essex MDO 

A few weeks ago I attended the Museum Next conference in London. It was an exciting three days and I learned a lot, but one of the most inspirational presentations was by Nina Simon of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).

 

If you have time, I urge you to watch the video below. Nina speaks eloquently about how stronger community engagement saved the museum. Partnership working, co-creating programming and changing their recruitment processes have turned them around. In 2011 they had a budget of $700 000, in 2018 it’s $3 000 000. They have gone from 7 members of staff to 32 and17 000 visitors per year to 140 000.

Nina and MAH’s work has been so exceptional, they have raised $900 000 to roll out an international programme of support called OFBYFOR ALL to help more museums around the world work in this way.

 

The first step, one which all heritage organisations can do, is to complete their free self-assessment tool. It will give you an organisational score as to how “of, by and for” your local communities your museum is and highlight your strengths and weaknesses. This could be a good exercise to do as a team, working together to identify ways of improving. If possible, it would be good to include representatives of your community partners in the process as your perceptions and theirs might be different.

 

The second step is to apply to be part of their “first wave” research program, helping to test and co-develop tools which will help your organisation and others become more OFBYFOR. They are looking for organisations that are from diverse sizes, sectors, and geographies that are ready to make change in the next six months.

 

If accepted for the programme, your museum will have:

  • Free access to OFBYFOR ALL online platform and tools for 1 year
  • Personalized support in developing a plan and tracking your progress
  • Global support and community-building with other First Wave colleagues
  • Promotion and PR about your founding involvement in the project
  • Opportunity to be part of the beginning of something big

The OFBYFOR ALL Change Network will eventually become a paid-model, but this First Wave is free as you will be helping to develop and test the model and resources. The only exception is covering travel expenses to attend an in-person event in January (and you may be able to access Museum Development help to support this – contact me if you would like to apply). There will also be the opportunity to attend an OFBYFOR ALL Bootcamp, which you would also have to pay for.

For more information about the programme, the self-assessment tool and the opportunity to take part in the first wave of the change network, visit the OFBYFOR ALL website.

 

Snapping the Stiletto Update

Snapping the Stiletto

Logo designed by Essex artist, Lisa Temple-Cox

Pippa Smith is project manager for “Snapping the Stiletto”, an Essex-wide project looking at how women’s lives have changed since gaining the vote in 1918. 

Snapping the Stiletto is a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections fund which aims to uncover and celebrate stories of strong Essex women over the past 100 years. Working in partnership with 11 museums across (historic) Essex and a range of community groups to steer the project we will be looking for hidden stories of women in museum collections and creating exhibitions and events to share these stories across the county.

CHMPM 536 Pat Foster, 1st female motorcyclist for EP

Pat Foster, first female motorcyclist for Essex Police (copyright Essex Police Museum)

The museums will be recruiting volunteers to help them to research and tell these stories and I’m busy talking to a range of community groups to discover what sort of topics would interest them. So far I’ve had meetings with representatives from the WI and the Shree Ram Mandir  Hindu Cultural and Heritage Centre and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with the Razed Roof Theatre Company in Harlow . I’ve contacted the Guides, sisters from a local mosque and representatives from a wide range of groups representing the diverse communities across Essex.

History students at Essex University studying a ‘Votes for Women’ module  have been looking at the representation of women in museums and public spaces and tackling some interesting questions set by the project which we hope to blog about soon.

So far two main themes are emerging- groups are interested in the history of women at work, in particular in industry and women as campaigners beyond the suffragettes.

Working with Home Educated Groups at Chelmsford Museum

Yvonne Lawrence, Chelmsford Museum, reflects on her developing work with home educated groups.

There is a large body of parents in Essex who elect to home educate their children. There are many reasons for this, and they are supported by Essex County Council and a range of self-led groups, some of whom organise formal learning sessions with Chelmsford Museums.

With museum education we are used to starting with very little prior information about the participants compared to a school teacher and when working with a group of home educated children this challenge is magnified because the age and ability range is very much larger, typically with participants aged between 4 to 12.  There may be additional special needs including those on the autistic spectrum, with ADHD, dyslexia or with social, behavioural or emotional difficulties.  Often there is a participant in the group who has a special interest in the subject who will be extremely knowledgeable alongside others who know much less.  In an ideal world we would like a full list of participants and any special needs and are working towards this, acknowledging that the situation is much more complex for the visit organiser than for a school.

Chelmsford Museum has been working in partnership with group organisers to ensure that home educated children are able to participate in our history, science and Arts Award sessions at both the main museum and at Sandford Mill. Our first big decision was to limit the group size to a maximum of 17 participants with whole group staying together during the session and led by one tutor.  Given that most participants come with an adult and perhaps a younger sibling or two, this still leads to more people in the room than a standard class and in retrospect we should perhaps have made the limit smaller-perhaps as few as ten participants.  But this would be comparatively expensive for parents/carers as we would still have to cover the tutoring costs and splitting them between fewer people means more cost per person.  Where the visit organiser wanted to book more than one session we explored ways in which younger children could book the morning session whilst older ones came to the afternoon session.  This was reasonably successful.

Home educated children have the luxury of learning at their own pace with a very flexible child-centred learning experience. Unlike a school with set break times and lunch hour, we found that the children seemed to be constantly grazing, eating snacks during the sessions.  The participants and younger siblings would then touch the artefacts, which really wasn’t doing the artefacts any good and posed a hygiene hazard.  We can’t just put our artefacts in a washing up bowl, after all!  So we worked with the group organiser to request that parents were advised of a no-eating rule in the sessions and why this was important, plus reinforcing the need to wash hands after eating.  We provided a trolley outside our education room for food and drinks; and we made a positively-worded request at the start of each session explaining why this was needed and and making it clear people were welcome to step out to eat whenever they wanted to.

To deal with the wide variety of ages, abilities and interests we adapted the format of the sessions to include a very short introduction and overview of what the session entailed with expectations for behaviour – participants and adults! People responded very positively and I think it helped everyone get the most out of the experience.  Typically setting expectations involves explaining the session format and establishing rules such as one person speaking at a time and putting their hand up if they wanted to ask a question during the introduction.  For parents it is worth mentioning active involvement, supervising their children, turning phones to silent and the eating-outside rule.  I always then check if that is OK with the group so we can all get the most out of the learning experience.  Fortunately the answer to that question has always been ‘yes’!

It can be hard to identify which children are taking part in the session so we have tried to set up a separate starter area for participants and parents/siblings. At the museum we often use foam mats on the floor for those taking part during the initial introduction, with parents/siblings seated behind and around them.  Once we establish our participants we start by asking a few questions to establish prior knowledge before introducing tables with a range of different activities linked to the topic.  It works well not to try to regiment the movement of participants as much as a school group, so we normally suggest the participants go off to explore the activities in any order giving an overall time limit to help people plan.  The tables have information cards for the adults with suggested activities, and the only advice we gave was to try to choose tables that weren’t too busy rather than all crowding around the same one.  There are times when we had to accept that a participant was finding it more interesting to sit in the corner playing games on their phone instead of taking part in the session.  They had their reasons, and we take the view that whilst it was our responsibility to provide suitable learning activities it was the participants’ responsibility to engage with them during the session and the supervising adults’ responsibility to intervene (or not) when it came to level of participation.

At the end of each session we come together to discuss what the participants had discovered and answer any questions that arose. Although most of our sessions normally run for two hours, timings are much more fluid with home educator groups and if we do finish a little earlier – or later – that is what we do.  At the end of each session, it is very rewarding to note the number of participants and parents who come up to us to thank us for running the session.  As one mum said to me recently “We appreciate what you are doing.  We know we aren’t the easiest groups to work with because we are all so different so thank you.” And that’s what makes it all worthwhile for us – being able to make that difference!

Autism and Museums

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Freelancer Jo Gillam has been supporting Chelmsford Museum to improve access for autistic visitors. Here she gives us an introduction to autism and changes museums can make…

World Autism Awareness Week (27th March-2nd April 2017) is a good time to consider how to make your museum more autism-friendly….

30 years ago, my brother was labelled as unfriendly, difficult, and having a ‘mental handicap’. Today, he’s described as having autism plus learning disabilities. Autism is certainly a word that many people recognise now but how many know what it means? How can your museum be more welcoming to people with autism and their families?

What is autism and who can have it?

Autism is a lifelong condition thought to be caused by a combination of genetics, brain development and part of the natural variety among brains. i.e. ‘neurodiversity’. It affects 1 in a 100 people in the UK – women as well as men. There’s no evidence that it’s more prevalent than before or that any ethnic or socio-economic group has a greater propensity to it than others.

Autism isn’t a learning difficulty, a learning disability, or a mental health problem. Some people with autism do have mental health issues, not least because they can find life extremely stressful. About 50% of people with autism have a learning disability. Sometimes this is severe but all people with autism can learn and develop with the right support. About 10% of people with autism have high intelligence (the preferred term is ‘high functioning’). Until recently, this was diagnosed as Asperger syndrome which is a term still commonly used. For some, far from being a disorder or disability, autism offers valuable abilities and unique perceptions. Examples of exceptional autistic contributors to society almost certainly include Mozart, Einstein and Turing.

How does autism affect everyday life?

Autism affects how a person processes information, relates to others, makes sense of the world and how they experience it through their senses. To people who don’t have autism, these differences are invisible. What they notice is behaviour caused by the difficulties created by a mis-match between autistic differences and the surrounding world. How people react to this behaviour makes a big difference to the emotional well-being of people with autism, who often feel excluded from social activities.

How can your museum help people with autism?

Some of the most effective changes you can make are also the cheapest!

  • Promote patience and understanding when someone behaves unexpectedly in your museum.
  • Limit the number of questions you ask and allow more time than may seem comfortable for the person to reply.
  • Be direct. People with autism commonly take things literally so try not to cause confusion by using statements like “I’ll be back in a second”.
  • Don’t feel offended if someone doesn’t engage with your friendly small talk as this is something people with autism can find uncomfortable.

Parents often feel that they are judged to be inadequate when their autistic child has a meltdown. The real reason may be that the child is being overloaded with sensory input. For an insight into how this feels, take a look at this powerful little film made by the National Autistic Society (NAS): Too Much Information

Small changes to your museum can make a big difference and help other visitors at the same time.

It can seem daunting to make your museum more autism-friendly, when autism is so diverse. After all, how do you manage hypo (low) sensitivity and hyper (high) sensitivity to certain stimuli such as light and sound within the same venue? The answer is flexibility and choice.

  • Make your light and volume settings adjustable. If this isn’t possible yet, provide visual and written information so that visitors can seek out or avoid particular areas.
  • Advertise times when your museum is most quiet or open it for special Early Bird/Night Owl sessions when you turn down/off some sensory experiences.
  • Ideally, offer a low sensory area where someone who feels overloaded can take a break.
  • Loan relaxing objects like stress balls and stimulating, sensory kits which can be carried around.

Most visitors or their carers will know what they find challenging and may bring their own aids such as ear defenders. At Chelmsford Museum, we offer free pairs just in case.

Changes made to help visitors with autism, often improve conditions for other people with access needs. Avoiding ‘busy’ floor or wall patterns, for example, also helps people who suffer from certain visual impairments, dementia, epilepsy or migraines.

Full and honest pre-visit information can be a key to unlocking future visits

Potential visitors with particular needs can come to expect poor access and so not consider coming. Consequently, providing clear, accessible pre-visit information (and advertising this) is crucial. For people with autism, who often find breaks from routine and unfamiliar situations intimidating, having floor plans, images and outlines of what they can expect at a museum, can make the difference between whether or not they visit.

Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum (London) are leading the way in autism accessibility. These and other examples are listed by blogger Tincture of Museum.

On a smaller scale, Chelmsford Museum is developing its own resources aimed at visitors with autism and their families. We’re working towards achieving the NAS’s Autism Friendly Award. I’m teaching the team how they can make the museum more autism-friendly and would be delighted to provide training elsewhere. We’re also holding an event for World Autism Awareness Day (1pm-4pm 2nd April 2017) aimed at everyone. It would be great to see you there!

For further information, try these organisations:

The National Autistic Society | – NAS

Autism in museums | Network Autism

Ambitious about Autism

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Jo Gillam, Freelance Heritage Professional

Mob 07754 130145   

Email: 1joprice@gmail.com

Twitter: @1accessforall

If you would like to learn more about how your museum can support people with autism, Jo will be talking about her work with Chelmsford at this event in June.

Snapping The Stiletto: Re-Examining Essex Collections

 

Image courtesy of Essex Police Museum

Image courtesy of Essex Police Museum

The Essex County Council Museum Development has secured a grant of £95, 445 from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for a two year project working with museums across the county.

 

2018 is the Centenary of the of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave the first British women the vote, the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928 which gave all women the vote and the 50th anniversary of the Dagenham Ford Worker’s Strike. These important national and local anniversaries are serving as a catalyst to explore, record and celebrate the diverse and inspirational stories of Essex women.

For the purposes of this project, we are working with partners from across “historic Essex” including those areas which are now unitary authorities or part of London, thus enabling us to tell interpret both existing collections and the stories discovered through our research as part of the wider story.

We will research and record how Essex women’s lives have changed during the last century and celebrate the stories of individual and groups of women in the county, for example Suffrage campaigners and Dagenham strikers but also women whose stories aren’t yet well known. This may include but not be limited to women who were involved in World War II, gained qualifications at a time when most women were unable to access further education, who entered male dominated professions including the services, those who moved to Essex from around the world and made a home for themselves by overcoming language and cultural differences and those who have raised families during a time of changing expectations for their gender. By highlighting women’s contributions, we will add another layer of understanding to elements of history that the public are possibly more familiar with, for example WWII, and change their perceptions of what took place. Also, through telling the stories of inspiring Essex women, we hope to weaken the negative “Essex Girl” stereotype.

 

Image courtesy of Southend Museums

Image courtesy of Southend Museums

 

 

The project is part of an overarching strand of work called “Snapping the Stiletto: 100 Years of Change”. We will be shortly be submitting further funding applications for oral history and other work, so there are still plenty of opportunities for heritage organisations and other groups to get involved. We will also be recruiting a large number of volunteers during 2017.

 

For more information, to sign up for project updates or to learn how you can get involved in the project, email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk

 

 

 

Our museum partners for “Revisiting Essex Collections” are:

  • Braintree Museums
  • Brightlingsea Museum
  • Chelmsford Museum
  • Colchester and Ipswich Museums
  • The Combined Military Services Museum
  • Epping Forest District Museum
  • Essex Fire Museum
  • Essex Police Museum
  • The Museum of Power
  • Redbridge Museum, Ilford
  • Southend Museums Service