Oxford Museums Scoop 2005 Guardian Family Friendly Award

By Richard Moss & David Prudames | 05 July 2005
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Shows a photo of Janet Stott, Andy McLellan, Chris Jarvis and Dea Birkett.

The winning team - (left to right) Janet Stott, Andy McLellan and Chris Jarvis - is congratulated by Guardian columnist Dea Birkett. © 24 Hour Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University Museum of Natural History have been jointly awarded the title of Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year.

Having risen to the top of a shortlist including Falmouth Art Gallery, the Museum of Farnham, Compton Verney and the Wordsworth Trust, staff from the adjoining museums were presented with a plaque at the Guardian's Newsroom Gallery in London on July 5 2005.

Immediately following the announcement Andy McLellan, Education Officer at the Pitt Rivers, told the 24 Hour Museum that the award is confirmation of the hard work carried out at both institutions: "It feels like a rubber stamp," he explained.

What started as free, open access sessions aimed at opening up the museums for families in Oxford have now escalated into educational and fun activities for around 35,000 local children.

Shows a photo of some young boys looking at a museum display.

Free, open access activities at both the Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University Museum of Natural History have seen more than 35,000 children pass through their doors. © 24 Hour Museum.

Although Andy, and education colleagues Janet Stott and Chris Jarvis, were in London to receive the award he paused to praise those who weren't: "We could not win an award like this without wonderful front of house staff," he said.

Now in its second year, the award received more than 1,000 nominations, which were whittled down to a shortlist of five by a panel of experts including Guardian Columnist Dea Birkett; Liz Forgan, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund; Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association and 24 HM Head of Learning Anra Kennedy.

However, when it came to the final cut (and uniquely for a major arts prize in the UK), the final decision was left to a panel of children aged eight to 16. For Birkett this was about "having children say what they expect from museums rather than museums saying what they expect from children."

Fellow judge Anra Kennedy said that putting the final decision in the hands of children made it more meaningful: "This award was all about children and families," she said, "right through to the final judging where the children really had the power."

As 16 year-old Iona Wiltshire-Perkins, a member of the panel, explained that it’s only right for such an award to be judged by the people the entrants want to engage in the first place. "Adults often try and imagine what children want," she told the 24 HM, "but children know what they want."

Shows a photo of young children and teenagers gathered around a table which is covered with paper and food. Some are raising their hands to vote.

The most discerning and, according to one of them, "ruthless" judges of them all - the children's panel.

As well as a plaque confirming official Guardian Family Friendly status, the winning museums were presented with a digital camera provided by Sony and a number of hipseat baby carriers provided by Hippychick. The other shortlisted museums each received a certificate.

The Guardian Family Friendly Museum Award was established in 2003 by Dea Birkett following a visit with her children to the Royal Academy of Art’s Aztecs exhibition.

When her son shouted 'Monster!' at a statue, the group was asked to leave. A resulting Guardian column provoked an enormous response from readers both fed up with being made to feel unwelcome in the UK’s museums and galleries and full of praise for those that did welcome them.

In 2004, the inaugural award saw Killhope the North of England Lead Mining Museum beat off competition from the V&A, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Falmouth Art Gallery and the Museum of Farnham.

Shows a photo of a box of bones.

Activities at both winning institutions include real object handling.

Attending the 2005 ceremony, Killhope director Ian Forbes described the effect winning it had on his museum: "It felt like a validation of what we did," he said.

"We are proud of what we do and here was a national newspaper saying 'we like what you do' and that was hugely important. For the whole of last year we were holding our heads up a little higher."

But he also saw it as a challenge not only to maintain the level of family friendliness, but also to get better. According to Andy McLellan, that’s a target the Pitt Rivers and Oxford University Museum of Natural History will also aim for.

"This is a challenge for us to take it to the next stage," he told the 24 HM, adding that it will also help raise the profile of both institutions: "The university takes us seriously, but they will take us more seriously now we’ve done this!"