'We need to be truly inclusive and prioritise creating engaging online content'

Rebecca Atkinson, 20.05.2020
Q&A with Jenny Haslett, museum manager of the Northern Ireland War Memorial, on how it is coping during the Covid-19 crisis
What are the main challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for you?

As a charity and an independent museum with a management team of two people, it has been difficult to balance adapting public engagement while ensuring continued good governance and navigating the HR impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

On reflection, changing our engagement with audiences and setting up home office spaces was straight forward - we jumped in with lots of creative ideas.

It has been more difficult to keep on top of all the required policy and procedural reviews while government advice evolves. Having said that, it has been great to see ideas take off so quickly which is one of the benefits of being a small and independent museum.

What has been the impact on staff and volunteers?

We only have capacity for one or two volunteers at a time, but it was a real shame to cancel their attendance at our VE Day 75th anniversary events.

The impact on staff has been interesting. Staff who are able to work from home are communicating in different ways, and what we do and when is more dovetailed than ever before.

Staff have shown great initiative and have been willing to find solutions and work outside their comfort zones. Sadly we lost a much loved and valued staff member who passed away from a non Covid-19 illness at the beginning of the lockdown period. It has been hard for the small staff team to accept this loss and it will be difficult to return to work without our friend.

What support are you getting from the museum community?

The museum community and creative people in general have been very supportive of our ideas. The Northern Ireland Museums Council has created a platform for museum managers to share ideas and best practice and I have gained a lot from the Museums Association's presence and positivity online.

Recently I've been reading about creating podcasts in Museum Practice and I'm delighted to be staying on as a MA rep for a little longer and to be working on a virtual Members Meeting for Northern Ireland.

How are you engaging with your audiences/communities during the crisis?

We cancelled a VE Day 75th anniversary concert and numerous family events, and while we didn't encourage VE Day street parties in lockdown, we have tried to inspire people to learn about and celebrate VE Day in their homes with their families.

We have created a huge range of free learning resources such as cookbooks, crafts and sing-alongs. We've worked with some incredible artists to create YouTube tutorials to inspire children to stay positive and resilient by getting creative while learning at home, using the contents of their recycling bin.

We have been keeping in touch with schools with a weekly online programme highlighting our collection. We've also continued to reach out to our older audiences by creating a Sing for Victory CD and YouTube video - an at-home version of our popular dementia friendly singing and reminiscence workshops.

So many comparisons can be drawn between lockdown and the hardships of the second world war. We can only hope to share some of the positivity and can-do attitude that generation had.

What is the most positive aspect this crisis has brought?

This crisis has forced us to think differently, problem solve and be resourceful. We spend so much energy creating a dementia-friendly, kid-friendly and autism aware space, but what we need to do is think about those people who will never step inside the museum.

We need to be truly inclusive and prioritise creating engaging online content. Since working from home, we've spoken aloud far fetched ideas we would never have entertained before, and then we've found a way to develop them and it has really paid off.

Stepping out of our comfort zones has been so rewarding and refreshing. We have reached out to artists and other creative people and they have added so much to our programmes. I hope that we continue to support freelancers when this crisis is over.

This Q&A is part of a series with MA members from across the UK

Comments