There are no such things as hard-to-reach audiences, only hard-to-reach museums. Our aim is to make the Great North Museum: Hancock, part of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (Twam), a place for everyone, building relationships with families who might not see themselves as museum visitors.
But at the end of funded projects, how do you continue to grow these relationships?
The Great North Museum: Hancock inspires curiosity, learning and debate through a stimulating, innovative and provocative science and cultural engagement programme. Families with young children, and the under fives Mouse House programme, form the nexus for our extensive early years offer.
In 2018, a project funded by Newcastle City Council’s Culture Investment Fund allowed us to engage with Newcastle’s Community Family Hubs West team, which provide early years support for families. The team is based in Lemington, an area of Newcastle that is one of the 10% most deprived wards in England.
Alongside experienced professionals from the hub, we engaged with families in a setting familiar to them, providing a bridge to the more unfamiliar setting of the museum. We sustained this relationship once the funded project ended, creating a strong partnership with Healthworks, a wellbeing charity also based in Lemington centre that is part of the hubs team.
During summer 2019, we participated in Healthworks’ family fun days, which brought a range of groups and organisations working across the city together for the shared vision of supporting families.
The opportunity gave us direct access to families and provided a fantastic networking opportunity to work alongside groups such as the National Literacy Trust’s Small Talk and Hungry Little Minds early years initiatives, which address similar issues to our programme.
This new relationship allowed us to co-deliver takeover sessions and events in the museum.
The Covid pandemic made it difficult to reach families that we didn’t have an existing relationship with without a dedicated budget.
We wanted to support families with wellbeing and homeschooling through the pandemic and to promote the museum as a place to enjoy when reopened.
The strong community partnerships we had recently established with Community Family Hubs, Healthworks and the National Literacy’s Trust’s teams gave us a collaborative and creative opportunity to establish new ways of working.
Together with Small Talk and Hungry Little Minds, we co-developed storytime videos via social media alongside simple activity ideas, cross-posting content to gain a wider reach. We also offered an “at home” early years reading and drawing activity. Twenty-five families participated, each receiving a free storybook bag.
We also provided 50 activity packs to Healthworks’s local families during October half term, which allowed us to engage with families, some of whom were experiencing technology barriers and digital poverty meaning they were unable to engage with our online activities. We made these activities available for all families via the museum website.
The success of the October activity packs led to a further 50 packs produced for the Christmas holidays; 160 packs for February half term; and 125 packs for the Easter holidays.
Community partnership working takes time, mutual respect, and good communication from all involved. This enabled different groups to come together for a common goal - supporting families in our community.
It also opened the doors for other museums in our organisation to support Healthworks by providing further resources for the activity packs. These were created without dedicated funding, using resources at hand, such as staff time and a printer.
The collaborative approach made for a more exciting resource for users and the feedback from our local community certainly made it worthwhile for us. We are looking forward to working in person alongside our community partners when it is again safe to do so. We want to build on our learning during the pandemic to sustain it in the long term.
Amy Baird, assistant learning officer at the Great North Museum: Hancock, managed by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums on behalf of Newcastle University