The Art of Bringing Health & Wellbeing into Museums

As a result of receiving an Arts Council England Resilience Fund grant, Bankfield Museum has been working towards implementing health and wellbeing themed sessions into its current roster of public programmes.

The main project was to host a series of four pilot sessions in partnership with Healthy Minds Calderdale. Rather than have just one activity per session, we opted to present a range of health and wellbeing focused activities in each of the sessions, so as to increase participants’ exposure to the range of possible activities, and therefore collect data on the most and least popular, which would then inform our future programmes.

It took longer than expected to get the partnership up and running, with each organisation already busy with its own schedule and restraints, however after an initial meeting, the development of the programme ran smoothly. We worked together with Healthy Minds to promote the event, and were therefore able to access their existing service users, who were not previously Bankfield Museum visitors.

Evaluation was an integral part of the development process. Our staff attended multiple workshops and seminars, so as to be properly informed on implementation and evaluation techniques specific to measuring the impact and effectiveness of health and wellbeing programmes. We decided on two forms of evaluation; UCL generic positive wellness umbrellas, completed as a group activity at the beginning and end of each session and Facilitator’s Feedback logs, completed at the end of each session. Most of the participants felt comfortable completing the UCL umbrella evaluation forms, and many provided inspiring comments.

One participant before the final session: “Not a good week, so looking forward to this as I know it will help.”

And the same participant after the final sessions: “This has helped me so much. I have been in a dark place, & though I’m not the other side yet, this practise I’ve learned has helped enormously. I’m so grateful to Healthy Minds & Bankfield Museum.”

Retrospectively, it would have been good to offer the sessions only as a course of four, so that we could record evaluations over a four week period, rather than per session. It also proved too difficult to get the facilitator’s to complete their logs, and short, formal conversations with them after each session may have proven more useful.

Overall, the sessions were a success. We had an average of 15 participants per session, many of whom attended more than one session. The sessions were booked out well in advance and we had to turn many inquiries away. Many of the participants suffer from extreme stress, depression or anxiety, but mentioned that now they had visited the museum in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere, they would like to return on their own terms.

As these sessions were piloted as part of the ACE project (supported by MDY funding), they were offered for free. As a result of the success of these pilot sessions, we aim to offer similar workshops in the future for a nominal fee.



New conservation blinds at Lotherton Hall: a view which won’t harm the collections

Lotherton Conservation Blinds

Lotherton Hall near Aberford is a country house museum and ancestral home of the Gascoigne family. It houses some of Leeds’s great collections of fine and decorative art, as well as its fashion galleries.

The house is situated on a small rise looking down over the Edwardian gardens and the estate’s parkland. These impressive views have always been recognised as an important part of the visitor experience. Indeed Lady Gascoigne always disapproved of anything obstructing the view and is on record observing in 1970 ‘The gardens were beautiful and would be a great public attraction. The family had always seen them as part of the house … Nor do I like net curtains blocking out the best views!’

However, the importance of the collections and the need to protect them from the harmful effects of sunlight have meant that for many years these views have had to be restricted. Measures such as UV film and even blinds have been an essential part of collections care at the house.

However, changes and improvements in collections care technology have recently brought an important and welcome additional benefit. A new type of semi-opaque blind recently installed at Lotherton means that on all except the brightest days, visitors can now see the gardens that the Gascoignes so treasured.

The purchase of the blinds has been made possible through Arts Council England funding for facilities improvement. They were fitted in early 2018 and now cover every window on the south face of the house.

Robert Rowe, the director of Leeds City Art Gallery and Temple Newsam House in 1969 when Lotherton Hall had its opening as a public attraction, remarked that visitors should be able to enjoy both the collections and the views. Thanks to these new blinds, it is finally possible to achieve his wish.

A Story to Tell: A new approach to museum object-based reminiscence at Cliffe Castle Museum

Cliffe Castle Museum has an active programme of engagement with people of all ages, but they are always keen to do more work with older people.

They were the first Bradford museum to implement dementia-friendly training, and they were keen to build on this to engage with older people – with or without dementia. Difficulties with memory aren’t only experienced by people with dementia or even only by older people.

Museum objects are a great way of sparking reminiscence and developing new conversations between museums and communities. Traditionally, this has been done with reminiscence boxes, and indeed Bradford museums support Bradford libraries in providing such traditional boxes. However, the Story to Tell initiative is far more interactive.

In their sessions, the social history curator prepares a selection of evocative objects, usually on a theme, such as Christmas, weddings, schools or local history. Usually, there are stories associated with each object, which the curator shares with attendees. These stories are then used to encourage people to share stories and memories of their own.

Each session attracts around a dozen people, and to date, there have been 10 sessions held. Feedback has been very positive, and there has been an unexpected level of interest across generations. Bradford Museums are now developing the sessions to make them suitable to run in care homes.

People are encouraged to bring their own objects along to the sessions, but probably more important have been the stories they bring, some of which have helped add to our understanding of people, places and times past.

Relaxed Santa: reaching out to children with additional needs – and their carers

Every year, Abbey House Museum runs ‘meet Santa’ sessions for local children. These can be vibrant, boisterous and hectic sessions, and are immensely popular, but can also be overwhelming for some – particularly for children with additional needs.

We are always at pains to communicate with people who attend our events, and after hearing from parents and carers about the challenges this group experienced, we hit upon the idea of running ‘relaxed Santa’ sessions over Christmas 2014 that they could book to attend with their children.

We ran these sessions when the museum was closed to general visitors, so that we didn’t have to worry about crowds or about non-booked-in people wanting to take part. We also took Santa out of his usual grotto, and located him at the top of our Victorian street. This was so children could choose to approach Santa as and when they wanted to.

We also provided a quiet room, sensory toys, books and some simple craft activities, so that there was a whole package of support in addition to Santa himself.

In all, 29 children with additional needs visited, along with 17 siblings and 33 parents and carers.

The sessions worked really well. The young people got to take part in a Christmas activity they would often have felt excluded from previously. We could see on their faces how much they enjoyed the sessions, but we also got a great deal of very positive feedback from the parents and carers themselves.

We have been running this scheme every Christmas since the success of the first event!

How volunteering with museums improves wellbeing

Kirklees volunteering

There is a wealth of anecdotal information telling us that volunteering with museums is great for the health and wellbeing of participants. There is a lot less well-evidenced data to support this.

In Kirklees, we have a long history of involving volunteers and working closely with our Friends organisations. Our Volunteers play an increasingly important role in supporting our staff as we face significant budget cuts. We have also been looking at the role our museums can play in early intervention and prevention of mental ill health. By expanding our volunteer programme, we thought we could address both issues.

Our volunteers have the opportunity to work behind the scenes with our collections team, to research and develop new learning resources or work outdoors with the rangers at our country park.

We commissioned the Audience Agency to evaluate the impact of our programme on the health and wellbeing of our volunteers, and to look specifically at any unique attributes of volunteering in a museum or cultural setting. We also asked them to look at how we can make volunteering with Kirklees Museums and Galleries more attractive. They conducted their survey with our Museum Friends and volunteers, together with in-depth interviews with individuals, and before and after surveys with some of our newer recruits.

The key findings so far show that volunteers are reporting significantly increased wellbeing, which they attribute to their work with us. Two thirds have also reported increased physical activity as a result of their role. There have also been strong indications of increased self-confidence and positivity.

The report also shows that over the last 12 months our volunteers have delivered over 8000 hours of activity with an economic value of nearly £90,000.

Some of the stories of our volunteers are already being used as part of a new recruitment and advocacy video and in December 2016, we anticipate receiving more detailed information about their experiences from our in-depth interviews.

Museums and mental illness

Working with in-patients in east Leeds


A novel initiative by Leeds Museums and Galleries’ education team, working with in-patients at a secure mental health unit in East Leeds has been having great results.

Since November 2015, we have been visiting the Newsam Centre at Seacroft Hospital, east Leeds. The centre provides services for people with a range of mental health issues requiring in-patient care. In our visits, we take a selection of objects on a theme such as Ancient Egypt, the Stone Age or Leeds history, and provide opportunities for participants to handle and talk about them.

We got such great feedback from working with patients at the centre’s general ward that doctors and nurses asked us to run a session with patients in Ward 2 – the Leeds Low Secure Service. These patients have significant mental illnesses whereby they form a risk to themselves or others.

We delivered our first session to Ward 2 in early October 2016. This followed some detailed discussion with staff of the unit about what would be safe and suitable objects to bring for an hour-long session about Ancient Egypt.

We were amazed at how well the session went and the feedback we got from both patients and staff. Attendance was high, and the ward staff told us they had never before seen such good levels of engagement with a session – engagement both with the objects and each other. Patient behaviour was also very good, even though many of them were experiencing conditions which often make their behaviour very challenging.

As a result, and with the active encouragement of staff at the centre, we are now planning a number of follow-up sessions. The scheme is still very much in its infancy, but we are very keen to evaluate how long the benefits of the sessions last and whether there is any beneficial cumulative impact for participants.

Museums mean business in Kirklees

Working with local private sector employers to invigorate our business style


Johnstone’s Paint, based in Birstall, and part of the global PPG Industries group, is a major local employer and supporter of Kirklees Museums.

Johnstone’s have had informal links with Oakwell Hall for some time, because they have recognised its value for the health and wellbeing of their staff. They have generously provided funding for community programmes, and volunteers for some much-needed maintenance work at the hall.

More recently we approached them, asking if in addition to their welcome financial support, they might allow us to tap into some of their business and commercial expertise. This is a valuable skillset which can be difficult to acquire for people working in the cultural sector.

This involved one day of site visits and one day looking at how some of their processes and approaches might be adapted to our own needs.

We also learned a lot about their use of quick and effective communication and empowering staff at all levels. Given the current local government environment and our pressing need to maintain great services with reduced funding, this has been invaluable.

We took away ideas from the sessions and have applied them to our own projects. We have also shared our progress with friends in Johnstone’s for ongoing feedback. This has deepened and enriched our relationship with an important local employer, while also nourishing the morale and sense of empowerment of our own staff, as well as our approach to how we engage with visitors and customers into the future.

Christmas at Abbey House for children in care

abbey-house-christmas-children-in-care-2016In December 2016, Abbey House Museum, Leeds hosted a special Christmas celebration for the city’s children in care. This followed on from a toy appeal which they had been running for the previous six months.

As a community museum, with regular displays of Leeds social history and contemporary collecting, Abbey House has always recognised the importance of reaching out to all sections of the local community. They thought that community Christmas event for children in care would be a great way of building on this tradition.

Staff at the museum worked with local councillors and community associations, as well as the Child Friendly Leeds campaign to run the toy appeal. Toy boxes for the community to donate toys were hosted at the museum and at local businesses. They also involved employers like Lloyds Bank, Jet2, CEG and Leeds City College, who between them provided hundreds of toys and over £1000 in cash.

The Christmas celebration was held at Abbey House in December 2016. 180 children and young people aged 0-18 attended with their carers. The children were all from residential homes, foster homes or other permanent care arrangements.

The event included a tour of the museum, a chance to see Santa, performances from local bands who the museum has worked with in the past, craft activities, choir performances and even a magician. Local traders from our monthly deli market provided the food. The centrepiece was the toy room, where we had piled up all the donated toys, arranged into age bands, for the children to select their own gifts.

The children had a great time, and it was clear at the time and from the feedback we subsequently received, how moved both they and their carers were. For many, it was their first visit to a museum, and we know that many of them will be return visitors. We were particularly keen to ensure they knew how to use their Max cards, which provide free or discounted entry to attractions for children in care, for foster families and families of children with additional needs.

We are already working with Leeds fostering services to bring back smaller groups for more targeted engagements over the coming year.

Bringing back Calderdale Industrial Museum

A whole-community effort to re-open the Calderdale Industrial Museum


After 17 years in mothballs, the Calderdale Industrial Museum is re-opening to the public in early 2017, thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between Calderdale Council and the volunteer-run Calderdale Industrial Museum Association.

The Calderdale Industrial Museum originally opened in 1986 to wide acclaim and support from the local community. In 1987 it was awarded “Best Museum of Industrial & Social History”. It had a strong story to tell about Halifax’s industrial past as the ‘town of 100 trades’ and had a strong focus on textile production throughout Calderdale.

However, by the late 1990s, it was struggling against the increased costs of keeping the building and collections open and maintaining visitor interest. The service was gradually reduced, until in November 2000, it was closed.

The museum’s collections were retained in situ and the museum service continued to preserve them after closure. Many were integral to the building, so there was no easy solution for their disposal.

While in many ways unavoidable, the closure of the industrial museum was felt with a great sense of loss by residents and visitors to Halifax and Calderdale. Calderdale Council was frequently approached by people asking for its return.

In 2010, the first serious discussions were held about finding a way of re-opening the museum under new ownership. In 2011, the Calderdale Industrial Museum Association (CIMA) had its first meeting.

CIMA is a voluntary group whose members were campaigning for the re-opening of the museum. Many of them have experience of working on Calderdale Museums’ industrial collections as volunteers as well as experience and skills from working in industry.

Between us, we were able to restore many of the items in the industrial collection and even arrange occasional well-attended open days. These proved so successful that we were able to demonstrate a public demand for an industrial museum in Halifax.

We then decided to look at how such a museum could be reopened and run by volunteers. We considered a number of potential mechanisms, including a community asset transfer or for the museum to be owned by us and staffed by volunteers.

None of these were quite suitable, so instead, we developed what we think is a unique agreement whereby CIMA leases the building from Calderdale for a peppercorn rent. They are given a grant equivalent to the running costs of maintaining the building as a closed store. In return, they have a licence to operate and open the building to the public and have been loaned the in situ collections.

We faced many challenges along the way, not least the costs of repairing the building, but despite this, the new museum was given the final go-ahead and transfer in August 2016. It is now due to open to the public in early 2017 at around the same time as the refurbished Piece Hall and central library. It will form part of the Halifax central cultural sector.

The whole process with its many complexities, pitfalls and hurdles is a testament to the desire of people from all sectors of Calderdale to make an industrial museum a viable proposition. Challenges still remain, but CIMA is already pursuing full accreditation for their service. It shows how, if the collections can be preserved, eventually, there is hope that they can be re-opened to public access.