Research and evaluation
Museums should support people-centred research that responds to the challenges in society and leads to positive change.
A case study from Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery
Platt Hall is a Grade II* listed 18th-century textile merchant’s house, former home to Manchester’s Gallery of Costume, the world’s first dedicated museum of fashion and dress.
Situated in an inner city park across three of Manchester’s most diverse residential wards, it closed to the public in 2017, due to a combination of urgent building issues, successive funding cuts, and a moth infestation that put the collection at risk of permanent damage.
In 2019, after essential work to ensure the preservation of both building and collection, the project Platt Hall In-Between began the process of re-imagining a new identity for Platt Hall.
Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Platt Hall In-Between is building a vision for Platt Hall as a new kind of museum and creative space with and for the residents of Rusholme, Fallowfield and Moss Side.
It takes its premise from William Bridges’ theory of the transitional zone, the space of reflection between endings and beginnings that must be traversed in order to move successfully from one phase of life into the next.
Adopting a process based on Participatory Action Research, this two-year project focuses on understanding the specific needs of the diverse communities that surround the hall, testing ways of meeting those needs through an iterative cycle of research, action and reflection.
Key partnerships with a GP practice, a women’s welfare charity, the park Friends group and a local artists collective have informed a programme of small-scale experimental activities – a gardening club, socially prescribed collections chats, pop-up street activities, a local issues discussion forum – each of which feeds back into an evolving vision for the hall and the modelling of decision-making mechanisms that build a sense of co-ownership for the future.
Reflection moments are built in, using film-making to capture changing perspectives as the process develops. It’s slow progress but is generating foundational relationships of trust locally.
I really like the way there’s no solid one kind of big goal – the goal is the conversations and the goal is the building up of the relationships rather than say for instance the goal being a lift and a café.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, much of this work has taken place without access to the physical building and collections. As we move gradually towards a post-pandemic world, the next phase of the project will focus on re-occupying the hall itself, turning exploratory ideas for its future use into a co-designed development programme grounded in the realities of local need.
Through this process we aim to make Platt Hall a vital, useful and sustainable resource for the mixed communities that surround it.
To find out more visit www.platthall.org.