Showtown, Blackpool’s new museum of fun and entertainment, due to open on the Promenade in 2021, was getting ready to start piloting our education sessions in schools just as lockdown began to take effect across the country.
The lockdown brought our schools programme to a standstill and we turned to digital platforms to provide an online offer to keep local kids busy while at home.
Because our website is still under construction, we had to think of inventive ways to use our social media profiles. In the first weeks, we focused on children’s activities such as colouring in sheets and word searches.
As the weeks went on we saw an increasing number of people turning to us for new ideas. This coincided with us cancelling planned events, so we started to look for ways to celebrate Blackpool’s heritage virtually.
Our education sessions in schools were due to focus on the themes of Showtown – which includes seaside, circus, illuminations, dance, magic and all of the shows that have taken to Blackpool’s stages. We decided to take these themes to our social media channels to create themed content for adults, children and families to enjoy.
We wanted to provide fun activities that linked to the national curriculum in simple parent-friendly language that could be undertaken as a family or as a group activity with children of different ages and abilities. For example, a digital playing board created for our circus weekend incorporated numeracy through rolling dice and creative writing exercises. The activity could be adapted depending on the ages of the children.
For each theme, we create family-friendly videos to watch online. We encourage active participation, such as decorating clown eggs (inspired by the International Clown Register) or using face paint in the styles of an Auguste clown. Families are invited to share their creations with us.
All our videos are subtitled, and we have also been learning Makaton signs for different words.
One of the main challenges we have faced is how to promote Blackpool’s offer; for example, as we celebrated our seaside week online we did not want to encourage families to spend more time outside than the government recommended. Instead, we looked for ways to bring elements of the seaside to their homes and encouraged families to follow a step-by-step tutorial to use household items to craft a sandcastle at home.
We have promoted our content online through our social media channels, mailing lists and local partners. We used closed Facebook groups to share our content through trusted sources and made contact with the local hospital to share these activities with the children’s wards.
We are in contact with a group of teachers from a range of local schools and used this relationship to share our content.
It was important for us to acknowledge the needs of our local community, including the reality that many Blackpool families are living without access to the internet or a printer.
We have worked closely with charities, community hubs and youth organisations to discuss ways to reach these communities. We printed 600 activity packs with the aim of reaching 1,000 local children, and these activity packs were included in food parcels that were due to be delivered in Blackpool.
I would encourage all museums and heritage centres to remember that there are still many households across the country who do not have access to digital platforms. It is important to consider ways to reach these families and make sure that content does not have to be printed or use large amounts of mobile data which they may not have access to.
To evaluate our content we have been actively consulting our audiences about what they would like to see from us in the upcoming months as well as monitoring the analytics for how much our audiences have engaged.
Following each themed week, we have looked at our educational activities to see which format has been engaged with the most. Our evaluation has meant that we can continue to adapt to the ever changing climate. For example, we have learned that local children at home are now being overrun with learning resources from their schools so we are seeking ways to encourage learning through stealth and help whole families to engage with our content.
Moving forward we will be continuing with our themed weeks on social media to engage with our audience, but we will also be looking at different ways we can engage virtually once children are back in schools.
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Kari Singleton is the learning and engagement officer at Showtown in Blackpool, which is due to open in 2021