Wales’s innovative Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (FGA) is encouraging museums to become more inspiring, innovative and collaborative.
A report published last month, Welsh Museums and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which looked specifically at the work of six museums, found many of their existing activities met the act’s seven goals. It also examined how museums can deepen their understanding of the act and find new activities and ways of working.
The initiative was led by Monmouthshire Museums Service, and included Cardiff Story Museum, Ceredigion Museum, Oriel Môn in Anglesey, Storiel in Bangor, and Wrexham Museum.They teamed up with the Happy Museum Project, which works with museums on wellbeing and sustainability ventures.
Nest Thomas, the principal museums and arts officer at Gwynedd Council, which runs Storiel, says the report is an important document, both for advocacy and sharing best practice with the wider sector.
Ruth Clarke, art and heritage consultant at MB Associates, says the Happy Museum Project, which had previously worked with three of the museums involved, was the “perfect lens” for the museums to scrutinise their work and how it fits with the goals of the FGA.
Under the FGA, which was introduced in 2015, public bodies have a legal obligation to consider the long-term implications of their decisions, improve their work with communities, and help to tackle issues such as poverty.
The seven goals aim to make Wales more equal, prosperous, resilient, healthier and globally responsible, as well as a land of more cohesive communities, vibrant culture and a thriving Welsh language.
The report highlights many projects in detail, including Ceredigion Museum’s New Approaches work, which is designed to make it more accessible and sustainable; Oriel Môn’s trial of a reminiscence project for the elderly in a care home; and work by Storiel to support people back into work via volunteering.
Thomas says the project shone a light on the excellent work already being done by museums in contributing to the FGA.
“It is important for us to demonstrate how we are meeting the goals,” she says. “It also provided an opportunity to reflect on the barriers that exist to achieving more, and to weaknesses.”
As well as reviewing existing work, the museums also identified a new programme that would fill a gap or improve their ability to respond to the goals. Gwynedd Council, alongside several museums, decided to look at new ways of evaluating its activities against the goals.
“We have an enthusiastic cabinet member within the council, but he needs things from us to help in getting us the support we need,” says Thomas. “We don’t always have that information.”
She adds that Storiel needs to demonstrate the impact it has on people’s lives in a specific way.
“We can do that on a short-term basis, but we need something more long-term,” says Thomas. “It is a slow process, and it is still very much ongoing.”
Carrie Canham, the curator at Ceredigion Museum, says the project also provided a good opportunity for the museums to get together, which is often difficult due to their geographical spread.
“It was a great opportunity to share good practice and share our achievements,” she says. “That, in itself, was good for the wellbeing of our staff,” particularly as there has been so much focus in recent years on museums becoming more entrepreneurial, and more financially self-sufficient.
“We focused a lot on our own wellbeing, as well as rolling it out into the community,” she adds.
Canham says the project also helped in terms of advocacy, and has raised its profile within the council.
“As a local authority museum, it has helped us to demonstrate what we are already doing around the FGA,” she says. Clarke says the lessons for the wider museum sector are clear.
“There is a lot of exciting and interesting work being done, especially when it is framed by something like the FGA,” she says. “There is potential for a much wider interest in the project. I can’t imagine a country that wouldn’t be interested.”