National Museums Northern Ireland
National Museums Northern Ireland has developed a very effective partnership with the Parent Support Programme in the Education Authority over the past five years.
Together both partners have delivered a wide range of creative programmes aiming to encourage parental involvement in education to help their children achieve their fullest potential. Participants in all projects are from areas experiencing high levels of social and economic deprivation.
Programmes include overnight stays at the Ulster Museum for parents and children – Night at the Museum, Early Years programmes for parents and children from local nursery schools, STEM projects for parents and children based on our extensive transport collections, and movie making projects using iPads for parents and children at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
Since April 2015, National Museums Northern Ireland has been working in partnership with the Education Authority and Nettlefield Primary School to develop and deliver a project aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of parents of children attending the school.
Volunteers were vulnerable parents experiencing depression, agoraphobia and anxiety. The project aimed to: use museum collections to promote parents’ positive mental health and wellbeing; build parents’ confidence to take part in activities outside of their community; provide a safe and informal environment for parents to begin the process of building social connections with the school, each other and museum staff and to introduce parents to a range of traditional crafts and develop their own skills in relation to these.
Taking a developmental approach, the Project Facilitator initially delivered a number of outreach activities at the school including object handling sessions and textile workshops. Participants were then invited to visit the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum weekly to take part in activities such as basket weaving, soda bread making, textile crafts and forge work.
As the project progressed, parents consistently reported that they were noticing positive improvements in their mood and in their willingness to consistently engage in the project. The parents then requested that the pilot project be extended. This was a major milestone in the life of the project. Getting dressed and out of the house in the morning often proved a challenge in itself for these parents.
Their desire and intent to commit to a longer term project reinforced our belief that engagement with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum was making a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. Nettlefield committed to a new project and sourced funding from Awards for All, allowing us to develop Craft in Mind.
This project not only provided opportunities for parents to learn many new crafts and skills but crucially they made the transition from being ‘leader dependent’ to confident, independent, actively and regularly engaged volunteers in the open air museum. Six months after the pilot project commenced, many of the parents now volunteer at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum two or three days per week, demonstrating traditional crafts and skills to museum visitors.
This significant development clearly demonstrates the personal growth that these parents have experienced. They have been challenged to move outside of their community, to become adult learners, to work as a team, to engage with the wider public and to change their self-perception from passive recipients to contributors. All of this while dealing with the very personal challenges they face on a daily basis.
Moving forward they are able to continue learning about the collections and carry on developing their creative skills while providing new experiences for museum visitors. Undoubtedly they will continue to grow and in doing so they will continue to contribute positively to each other, their families, the school and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.