Dealing With Social Diversity - Slough Museum Sets The Bar High

By Nicola Tann | 27 March 2006
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A mother and daughter peer through a telescope

Give us a look... A mother and daughter enjoy the interactive activities at Slough Science Expo. Photo courtesy of Slough Musuem.

An industrial town with a history of economic migrants, Slough is a massive melting pot of different cultures. With a constantly changing local community and groups from many cultural backgrounds, the local museum really has its work cut out. Just how does a local venue cater for such a community?

With aplomb, it turns out. Slough Museum uses education, Family Friendly events, and a constant soliciting of feedback in their approach to attract a diversity of visitors, from, among others, Asian, Somalian and Polish groups.

“Family learning, and particularly creative learning, is at the heart of our education service”, Claire Toogood, Creative Coordinator at Slough, tells me. “It is very important that we provide a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere so that new visitors, and particularly 'hard to reach' groups, feel that the museum is theirs to use”.

A young boy sitting at a table of glitter, paper and other craft items

A young boy writes a 'Postcard To Santa' at Christmas explaining how his family spend the holiday. Photo courtesy of Slough Museum.

Learning activities include ‘hands on’ creative workshops, run in-house or by local artists, and trails through the collections that have a focus on numeracy and literacy, “rather than just filling in answers on a piece of paper”.

The family friendly focus here at Slough has been a useful one for engaging culturally diverse visitors. Parents, who may not use the museum for a variety of reasons, are often 'dragged' in by children who have been involved with the venue in some way without their parents, perhaps in a school project.

Children who have built a good relationship with the museum can be very persuasive in bringing in their parents who may not otherwise visit.

A grandmother, father and two children gathered around a table concentrating intently on their activity

Suitable for ages 8 to 80... Three generations enjoy one of the creative workshops run by a local artist. Photo courtesy of Slough Musuem.

Events are designed with visitors’ cultural backgrounds in mind. “We try to include activities that encourage our visitors to tell us something about their culture and background”, Claire tells me, “and this means we can learn more about the ways that other cultures celebrate different festivals and times of year.”

Last Christmas saw an exhibition space established at the museum where visitors could write a ‘Postcard to Santa’ explaining how their family spent this time of year.

These were then displayed so that all visitors could learn about how other people in their community celebrated. The museum also had a Polish Easter last year as a direct result of a huge influx of Polish families.

Some bright coloured, freshly painted egg cups standing out to dry.

If mum and dad don't want the mess at home - bring it to the museum! Egg cup painting proved a popular activity. Photo courtesy of Slough Musuem.

“With such a diverse community base we have to be sensitive and flexible with the events that we put on”, says Claire. “Because we are a small venue and quite an informal one it is easy to engage families in conversation and find out more about them and their needs when they visit”.

Feedback forms for each activity are used to evaluate its success and in the design of future events. Visitors are asked if there are any particular cultural themes they would like to see represented in a museum event.

With all of the family education service events offered free of charge, Slough museum is a museum that genuinely works towards reflecting and responding to the needs of its local community.

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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.

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