Working with non-museum partners is essential for reaching wider audiences and offering new experiences. Where projects made a strategic decision to reach out to communities to make better use of their collections, lasting relationships were formed.
Many projects were focused on improving accessibility to their collections from the outset; the whole point of these projects was to make the collection more useable and more accessible to the public, giving communities a stake in collections.
Museums actively involved community organisations and members in many ways - in reviews, documentation, updating collections, improving interpretation and in designing and staging their own exhibitions, including:
- refurbishing and sending surplus sewing machines from museum collections in Scotland for reuse in Tanzania
- creating loan boxes for use with people with dementia
- updating an urban botanical collection with inner-city families
How community engagement influenced a collections review
The National Mining Museum of Scotland recognised that many day-to-day objects held in its collection had powerful associations for the older mining community and yet these objects had become inaccessible to them:
"We had for years realised our older mining community was finding it harder and harder to get into the museum and access the collection at NMMS, and through our contact with donors, visitors and community groups, we understood fully the deep meaning the objects in our collection hold for the community.
"This understanding, gained from listening to the community, influenced the collections review process. Selecting objects for new loans boxes ran in parallel with an overall review of the collection. Community members identified items that were missing from the collection (or too few in number to loan) and, after putting the word out, people came forward and donated additional items that were needed.
"We wanted our project to get those objects back into their hands at a time in their lives when they most needed them. The enthusiasm from care staff for the resources created has been excellent and we've only just started. I think it has worked because we have listened to our communities, observed what was happening in our museum and tailor-made the project to fill that need.
"This process of effectively involving the community in the collections review has built a continuing relationship with organisations and professionals working with older members of the community. NMMS is now working with these organisations to develop further resources intended to make their collections more accessible. This is now an ongoing project. In their words, 'we've only just started'."