Engaging with Battle of Britain artefacts

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund case study

Bentley Priory Museum

Funding round:

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, round eight


Bentley Priory Museum was awarded £37,092 in round eight of the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for a one year project to substantially increase access to and meaningful engagement with the unique collection of predominately Battle of Britain artefacts for online and physical visitors who are hearing impaired, deaf, partially sighted or blind.

This would be achieved through digitisation, research, and the creation of online and live audio descriptions of the artefacts, and bespoke guided tours and handling sessions.

We loved this project because, although modest in scale, it has the potential to have a big impact and has a brilliant link to the Guinea Pig Club.

Project manager:

Eleanor Pulfer, director at Bentley Priory Museum

About the project:

The project is inspired by Battle of Britain aircrew, many who had access needs to consider after the battle.

These included members of the Guinea Pig Club - British and allied aircrew who were badly burned during the Battle of Britain and the rest of world war two, and who underwent pioneering surgery under the hands and vision of Archibald McIndoe, whose portrait hangs at Bentley Priory Museum.

We are digitising some of the museum’s most historically valuable and visually striking artefacts, including its largest artefact, a 4.5m Battle of Britain lace panel.

Selected artefacts usually held in the collections store will also be digitised. The primary aim of the digitisation is to produce high resolution images that will be accessible on the museum’s website (a new website will launch in spring 2015) to enable online visitors to engage with museum’s collection.

All images will have a written interpretation of the object, and also an audio description, to engage visitors who are partially-sighted or blind. The audio descriptions will highlight the details of the artefact, from what it looks like and is made of, to its historical importance.

Audio descriptions of the collection will also be created within the museum, to be delivered by staff and volunteers.

To ensure informative and engaging written and audio descriptions online and in the museum, research of the collection will be undertaken.

This research will be integral to improving access to and interpretation of the collection, as there is limited documentation regarding the provenance, narratives and historical value of the collection.

Centrally documented information will ensure that important collections information is not lost in the future, providing an important legacy of the project.

Museum staff and volunteers will also have storytelling training to support the creation of engaging interpretation.

To ensure accessible written and audio descriptions of the collection, the project will be supported by Vocaleyes, who will provide staff and volunteer training and guidance, and will review and trial the audio descriptions.

Professional guidance will also be given by Stagetext, who will train museum staff and volunteers to deliver accessible guided tours who visitors who are hearing-impaired or deaf.

The 12 month project will commence in February 2015.

It will leave a legacy of significantly improved access to the museum’s collection for visitors who are hearing-impaired, deaf, partially-sighted or blind.

Museum staff and volunteers will be trained and consequently empowered to facilitate meaningful engagement with the collection, and the museum will have greater understanding of the collection, and a centralised documentation of this knowledge – thereby laying an important foundation stone for improved collections interpretation and access in the future.