Hackney Museum is a local, social history museum in north-east London. Our collections represent the everyday lives of people in the borough, many of whom have migrated from different parts of the world. We use these collections to encourage under-represented voices to share their own experiences and memories.
We run a well-regarded and popular primary school learning programme, and for many years we have delivered workshops about African and Caribbean history in October and November to coincide with Black History Month.
These workshops usually respond to the temporary exhibition on display at the museum created in collaboration with the local community. The workshops are delivered by local facilitators with a specific skill or experience relating to the theme of the exhibition, funded through Hackney Libraries.
This is a really busy time of year for us, with about 2,500 children from local primary schools taking part in sessions in the space of two months.
This is the maximum number that we can physically get into the space in the two-month period but we often have hundreds more pupils that we cannot accommodate due to budget constraints and other programme commitments.
The Covid pandemic has meant that in 2020 we haven’t been able to co-create a temporary exhibition, and we have had to also think about a different way to deliver our learning experiences.
We started by engaging with teachers. 30 survey responses revealed that teachers were keen to talk about African and Caribbean history with their pupils but that they wouldn’t be able to physically visit the museum. We also discovered that there was a range of topics within this broader subject that teachers wanted to cover.
So we decided to focus our attention and resources on making a film, which would give an overview of Hackney’s African and Caribbean history, from the earliest record 400 years ago, up to and including the amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
We recruited spoken word artist Bad Lay-Dee to write and present the film, and a filmmaker, Winstan Whitter, to film and edit it. Bad Lay-Dee used information from the museum’s displays and collections, as well as additional research gathered by staff for various exhibitions and projects over the years.
This enabled Bad Lay-Dee to create an informative script, which was interwoven with pieces of spoken word. We wanted the film to be an interactive learning resource where the pupils and teachers engage with the content rather than it being a passive experience.
To allow for this, teachers are encouraged at various points to pause the film and consider questions such as “what is this mystery object?” as well as have discussions about the bias of history.
As we promoted the film to local schools, we asked teachers to fill in a short survey before they received the download link. This told us which schools were downloading the video and how many pupils they were planning on sharing the film with.
We know that the film has been viewed by more than 7,000 pupils in Hackney, which is almost triple the amount we are able to reach with sessions in the physical museum at the same cost. The film also extended our reach to secondary schools, who do not normally visit the museum due to restricted timetable pressures.
We are currently collecting feedback from teachers who used the film to gauge its success. This will inform our planning for the future. Ideally, we would like to find a way for us to offer both workshops at the museum and an in-classroom film, so we can continue to reach secondary schools.
The impact of Covid-19 and the need to create alternative delivery of our learning programmes has been a steep learning curve for the team. The museum had a traditionally low-tech learning programme, preferring to focus on experiences in the physical museum space with the budget spent on the facilitator.
My advice to museums looking to create interactive digital resources includes:
- Don’t be put off by thinking of this as a high-tech project – there are plenty of resources out there to help you gain the skills you need
- Overestimate the time that everything will take
- Think about the images, music and sound that you’ll need, and what this will cost, as early as possible
Josie Stevens is heritage learning manager at Hackney Museum