How can museums support communities through the cost of living crisis? - Museums Association

How can museums support communities through the cost of living crisis?

Ideas for how institutions can help vulnerable people this winter
Cost of living crisis
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As winter approaches, many museums and galleries are considering what they can do to help those who are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

Some institutions are joining networks of warm havens, which are being established in parts of the UK to offer free and welcoming public spaces to those who cannot afford to heat their homes.  

Cultural institutions are increasingly working with local health and social care providers to deliver initiatives to support health and wellbeing. There are a growing number of opportunities for museums to get involved, including schemes like Buildings at the Heart of the Community, which was was launched last year by Community Health Partnerships to give charities and community groups free use of buildings in the NHS estate for outreach activities that support health and wellbeing.

Eleanor Root, the collections and learning curator at Colchester & Ipswich Museums, recently launched an open Google document where museums can share advice on how to support people, and is encouraging others to contribute their ideas.

Root said: “I believe that small acts of care, like offering a warm drink or free activities, demonstrate museums’ shared commitment to supporting our communities. When times are tough or frightening, it becomes more important than ever to look outwards and ask ‘how can we help?’ – this list is full of big and small ideas to get started. Please chip in!”

Tips for supporting people affected by the cost of living crisis
  • Contact your local homelessness and poverty support organisations in order to collaborate and ensure you are not diluting current support.
  • Create and advertise a friendly picnic space in your venue. Make it clear that people can bring their own food to eat if they need to.
  • Make free sanitary products, nappies and wet wipes available in your bathrooms.
  • Offer free events vouchers for full days of activities (this is important for families who would struggle to justify the travel expense for a short activity).
  • Use your lost property to create spare clothes boxes, sorted into age range.
  • Provide complimentary museum tickets to the local food bank.
  • If you have an admission price, rethink your pricing structure. Can people pay once and have a year long ticket? Do children have to pay?
  • Explore what happens to unsold food from museum cafes. Can it be donated in a structured way?
  • How can spaces be utilised for vulnerable groups (such as the elderly) to provide a warm safe space? Examples include community knitting, skills sharing, or reading spaces.
  • Can short-term volunteer programmes be opened up to increase opportunities for vulnerable people to get out of their homes?
  • Could your museum offer drop-off points for donations for charities to collect?
  • Is there any old stock of items that could be donated to those in need?
  • Make free food available at your cafe for vulnerable families. This could be subsidised by a pay-it-forward scheme.
  • Keep the heating on and make clear in marketing for families that you provide a free, fun day out in winter.
  • Work in partnership and offer to share resources or activities with local libraries, which are often places of refuge for those seeking somewhere warm but don’t have the marketing budgets that museums have.
  • Create a project or exhibition on the experiences of people currently facing hardship. Donation boxes within the exhibition space could be used to raise money for related charities and food banks.
  • Train staff and signport resources for debt advice and resolution charities.

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