On Sunday 27 January 2019 we invited families with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to visit the museum. The aim was to give us some honest feedback about what we do well and what could be improved. Reflecting a month later, here is what we learnt from our families.
First let me introduce PHM for those who may have not visited. PHM is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future. The museum provides opportunities for people of all ages to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all. You may not think of PHM as the first place to visit with families, but we have two permanent galleries full of interactive displays to connect even the youngest visitor with ideas worth fighting for; past, present and future. We also offer an exciting Family Friendly programme, including free creative activities for babies to adults. We were delighted to win the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award for 2017-2018, Britain’s only museum award where families pick the winner!
PHM has been working with Manchester’s Parent Champion Network for nearly two years. Since reopening in 2010 after redevelopment, our museum is fully accessible with a range of resources and support offered for SEND requirements. But we know that our service can still be improved for visitors with SEND to feel more comfortable and confident while with us. The Parent Champions have been invaluable for their encouragement, their honest feedback and involvement in this process.
We have worked on a number of small projects with Manchester Parent Champion Network in the past such as creating a pre visit video for PHM’s website, and we went on a trip to test out Manchester Museum’s Autism Friendly Early Opening. We felt that now was the time to host a big event to trial all that we had learnt, and get some feedback on our new activities that were ready to be launched as part of the museum’s public programme of events.
Working closely with three artists, we developed activities based on textiles, photography and music to provide a range of activities for mixed abilities and ages. The theme was representation and how people have stood up for what they believe in. There were also some more playful self-led areas throughout the museum where visitors could hula hoop inspired by recent anti-fracking demonstrators, and doodle away at our drawing station.
We knew that often the hardest part of a visit starts at home. ‘Looking forward to it but anxious at the same time’ and ‘…nervous, wanted the staff to be kind and helpful’ were just some of the worries we were told. We sent families our new Social Story and the link to the pre visit video to help familiarise visitors with potentially new surroundings. We were really happy to see that once they had arrived at the museum families were happy with the welcome, ‘my family were made to feel very welcome and the children all received a lot of individual attention which was really well suited to their individual needs’ and ‘the staff were fab, so friendly and welcoming. It makes a big difference when people understand and don't judge’.
We learnt just as much from suggestions for improvements. With the textile sessions, one activity required a lot of precision; threading through small holes in Perspex disks to make peace symbols. One suggestion was to have bigger holes and thread shoelaces instead – a brilliant idea that we will definitely be incorporating into future workshops! Other ideas involved simplifying our photography activities so they do not seem so overwhelming, providing timetables that show what to expect in our music workshop, and bringing out museum collections more, with some tactile objects to handle.
My personal highlight was seeing parents participating in activities with their children and families getting involved with each other. We are after all, a museum all about people working together to make the world a better place.
A lot of these changes are simple ideas but can make a big difference to somebody’s visit. We are still learning, but feel excited to launch our 2019 Family Friendly programme bursting with playful ideas. We hope to see you at the museum soon to see for yourself!’
People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm. The museum is Family Friendly throughout and free to enter with a suggested donation of £5. To find out about visiting the museum, and its full exhibition and events programme visit phm.org.uk.
Phone: 0161 838 9190
Written by Liz Thorpe, Learning Officer