Thames Valley Museums In Family Friendly Pilot Scheme

By Nicola Tann | 20 February 2006
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Shows a grandmother and granddaughter studiously concentrating at an activity

Being Family Friendly means catering for the whole family - not just the children. Picture courtesy of Reading Museums.

Funding from Tourism South East and Renaissance in the Regions is being used to develop a new initiative providing Family Friendly events at museums across the Thames Valley. If successful, the scheme could be rolled out across the whole of the South East in 2007/08.

All museums in the region are eligible to take part in this self-auditing scheme and already many are involved. A new training course has been designed to help museum staff and volunteers design family friendly events, and to audit their own venue against a set of guideline criteria.

These criteria include attending training sessions and gathering information for analysis, as well as providing good access, proper eating facilities and delivering well-designed events that cater for the needs of different generations within a family group.

Shows a volunteer and a young child involved in making a mask

Getting stuck in - a volunteer helping a youngster to make an Egyptian mask. Picture courtesy of Oxford University Museums

“This is an important pilot project for the region,” said Laura Williams, Regional Museum Development Manager with SEMLAC. “In partnership with Tourism South East and the 24 Hour Museum website, we're using Renaissance funds to help focus on encouraging more family groups to visit museums in the Thames Valley.”

The Thames Valley is particularly well placed to play host to this initiative, home as it is to the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which together won the 2005 Guardian Family Friendly Museum Award.

Andrew Mclellan, Education Officer at the Pitt Rivers Museum said “We make sure that people are welcomed and feel comfortable within twenty seconds of walking into the museum. They’re not asked to be quiet, they’re given plenty of room to bring a buggy round, those first twenty seconds are seen as really important.”

Shows two children wearing masks

Hey Good Lookin' - two youngsters in their masks. Picture courtesy of Oxford University Museums

Zara Luxford, Museums Officer at Wycombe Museum, agrees that first impressions are very important. “To Wycombe Museum being Family Friendly is about creating a welcoming positive experience for all by recognising the needs of different visitors within a family group,” she said. “We believe being Family Friendly is really about being accessible, welcoming and responsive to customers needs.”

Marketing is of prime concern to the scheme and opportunities for joint marketing will be fully exploited. Leaflets about the new Family Friendly initiative will be distributed during Museums and Galleries Month in May.

Tourism South East will also be having their own launch for Family Friendly events, which will include a 16 page supplement in the Sunday Times. “Their launch will dovetail really neatly with what we’re doing,” added Zara.

Shows an artist working with children in a clay workshop

Local artist David Odwar in a clay workshop. Picture courtesy of Oxford University Museums

Direct Data Entry training with Jon Pratty, Editor at the 24 Hour museum has also been provided. This allows individual museums to use the DDE program to advertise their events on a live web feed.

The feed can be found on the Thames Valley landing page on the 24 Hour Museum along with other museum and heritage websites – including SEMLAC. The information on the feed will be distributed nationally via the 24 Hour Museum’s main web page in the ‘What’s On’ section.

“DDE training has been very important to help museums gain new skills which will help them to provide their own very effective publicity,” said Lauren Gilmour, Museum Development Officer for Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Shows a child wearing a mask with long ears

Picture courtsey of Oxford University Museums

“Before only museums with big budgets could afford to publicise their events - and that might be a leaflet every six months with very limited circulation. Now, with these new skills, any museum can spend half and hour updating their details on a website with national coverage. And, as it’s so much easier and faster, they can do this every week if they’d like. It’s made a huge difference”

Events are being designed with particular target groups in mind and with the aim of bringing as many people into venues as possible.

“All our events are free”, added Andrew Mclellan. “If they’re free, they’re more family friendly. All our Family Friendly events are drop-in as well, which might be scarier to deliver as who knows how many will turn up, but it opens up the events for so many more people to enjoy.”

Shows some youngsters exploring Pitt Rivers Museum

Exploring the museum. Picture courtsey of Oxford University Museums

The museum ran three afternoon events during half term which attracted something in the region of 1500 children with their families.

It is still early days to talk about the impact that the initiative might have on the region, but Lauren Gilmour is optimistic. “It’s giving museums new hope,” she says. “Museums have a very committed audience but they are all getting older. We need to start bringing younger audiences in.”

“We can do that by bringing them in with their families, watching them have a good time and learning something. As a mother I can understand that quality time with families is hugely important.”

Family Friendly logo

Nicola Tann is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer for Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.