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.

Museums and Mental Health

How Bradford’s museums are helping volunteers with mental health issues into work

Bradford Museums and Galleries have a strong volunteer programme with over 100 active participants.

Many of these are retired and not seeking paid employment. However, we also work with many much younger volunteers, who would like to find paid work, but for various reasons, lack the skills and confidence to do so.

One such group is people with mental health issues. We have been keen to include them in our volunteer programme, and we have been working with the Cellar Trust – a locally-based charity which helps people who have mental health problems with their rehabilitation.

We believe that everyone has to potential to bring skills which can benefit our organisation, and that learning to work with people whose behaviour can sometimes be challenging can be a positive learning experience for our staff.

The Cellar Trust introduced us to William – a man in his 30s, who has Aspergers.

William was able to volunteer to help on an important collections documentation project. This work can be repetitive, but also requires high levels of concentration, focus and accuracy in describing and recording details of objects in our collection onto a database.

William was able to put a lot of his personal qualities to good use in this work, while also getting used to life in a working environment. We got through a big chunk of our documentation backlog with his help. Gavin, our collections manager, who supervised him, gained a lot of valuable experience of adapting the requirements of his work programme to the needs of individual volunteers, and also how best to engage with support workers.

We have been able to use our experience of working with William to improve the quality of our evaluation tools, so that we can be more responsive to the needs of our diverse volunteer base.

Following his time with us, William has gone on to achieve his first ever paid job, working on large and complex databases for Bradford College. He believes that the skills and confidence he gained whilst volunteering with us have been directly responsible for his success.

We are continuing to work with the Cellar Trust to support more people like William through our volunteer programme.

Volunteering at Wakefield Museums

Building a new volunteer programme from scratch for Wakefield’s museums and castles


Between 2012 and 2014, Wakefield Museums were unable to maintain a volunteer programme, due to a combination of a high level of organisational change and the relocation of museum sites.

However, in 2014, with support from Museum Development Yorkshire, they put together a brand new volunteer programme, working with York CVS.

Because Wakefield Museums do not have a volunteer manager, they needed to develop a programme which would operate satisfactorily without one. This meant that instead of recruiting a pool of volunteers, they recruited to individual or specific projects.

Now, whenever a member of their museums team needs volunteer support for a project, they put together a role description for that specific purpose and then recruit short-term volunteers to assist.

For their castles, they have taken a slightly different approach. At Pontefract Castle, they have the benefit of HLF-funding for four years, which includes support for a volunteer co-ordinator. The co-ordinator is currently developing a longer-term programme for a number of volunteer roles including an events assistant, customer services (which include visitor guides and front-of-house) grounds maintenance and administration, using the museum-developed structure of defined volunteer roles.  This approach will help to promote sustainability after the end of the funded project.

A four year project

The four year project aims to recruit 40 volunteers over its lifetime, and has already attracted 19 recruits from a range of ages and sectors of Wakefield’s diverse communities. These roles complement rather than aim to replace the work of paid staff and the museum service works to ensure that the volunteers gain the skills and experience that they desire from volunteering.

An evaluation of the volunteering programme shows it is demonstrating its valuable role in developing important skills and engaging diverse communities in the life of Wakefield’s castles and museums.

They believe this approach is an innovative and effective way of creating a sustainable volunteer programme, which will continue to benefit us through the coming years.

Anne Lister

Providing new perspectives on LGBT history in Calderdale

calderdale-anne-listerAnne Lister (1791-1840) is often described as the most famous (or infamous) resident of Shibden Hall, a beautiful historic house dating back to 1420, owned and managed by Calderdale Museums.

Anne was a Victorian landowner, businesswoman, traveller and diarist, and it was the publication of her diaries in the late 1980s, revealing her feelings for other women and her lesbian relationships, which have contributed to her subsequent notoriety. In 2010, BBC Two broadcast a production based on Lister’s life, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, starring Maxine Peake as Lister.

In telling the story of Shibden Hall, previous generations, in keeping with prevailing attitudes of the time, have skirted around Anne’s sexual orientation. Indeed, when her diaries were first decoded in the 1930s, they were nearly burned owing to their ‘scandalous nature’, and were subsequently hidden behind a panel for decades until being rediscovered and published.

Modern audiences clearly expect better. We have been keen to make her an integral part of our interpretation of the hall, recognising her lesbianism, while also making clear that she was a complex and very human figure, not just a one-dimensional icon. To do this, we have engaged with her biographer and the translator of her diaries, as well as people with a passion for LGBT history.

A ‘warts and all’ portrayal

We believe this approach is the right one. Shibden Hall is now very firmly on the list of important places to visit for people with an interest in LGBT history. We have received positive feedback on our approach to her story from LGBT individuals and community groups, who like the fact that we show her ‘warts and all’.

We want to ensure that the way we tell her story continues to evolve and stay fresh, and have used Shibden Hall as the setting for the ‘Inaugural Anne Lister Conference; women, gender and sexuality in the 19th Century’ in April 2014.

Kirkstall Abbey Deli Market

Nourishing success

kirkstall-abbey-deli-marketThe Kirkstall Abbey deli and craft market is a great example of how imaginative use of heritage sites can sometimes help create something very special. It runs on the last weekend of every month.

In 2010, we were considering how we could use the beautiful grounds of Kirkstall Abbey to provide some kind of hub for the local community in Kirkstall. With the support of local councillors, we were able to get a small deli market going. At the heart of this scheme was a strong commitment to showcase only locally sourced and reasonably unique Yorkshire products.

The rapid success of the market took us all by surprise. Within the first few months, the original 10 stalls in the abbey’s small courtyard proved insufficient, and we had to shift to the cloister, which is able to house 50.

As well as food, the market has now expanded to include craft stalls. It provides a unique showcase for small, talented local producers, many of whom have gone on to set up their own shops or web enterprises. Indeed, the existence of the market has inspired many local entrepreneurs to set up small food or craft businesses, knowing that they would have a reliable and popular outlet for their wares.

A great draw to the Abbey

The market now brings us around £8000/year in profit. During the summer months, we attract 8-10k weekend visitors to the Kirkstall Abbey site when the market runs, compared with 2-3k visitors on a non-market weekend.

We believe that the market is now helping provide a valuable community activity for people in Kirkstall and beyond, as well as putting the abbey in a position at the heart of local life that it has not had since the Reformation.

Art and Science of Noticing Workshops at Bradford Museums

How Bradford’s museums and galleries are inspiring children and instilling communication, art and literacy skills


When the new National Curriculum was announced in 2013, it gave us an opportunity to review our schools learning offer. Many of our education programmes were fun and interactive but heavily tailored to narrow curriculum needs. We knew there was scope for a more child-centred approach, which used the parts of our collections that young people were interested inspire and excite

Exploring the collections

This thinking inspired our Art and Science of Noticing workshops which have been delivered since September 2014 and are offered to both primary and secondary schools.
The workshops bring young people into our museums and galleries and actively encourage them to explore our diverse collections and find out for themselves what excites them.
During the workshops, we start to develop young people’s abilities to notice small details about objects and articulate what it is about the objects that interests them most.

This is followed by a drawing exercise where they can depict the objects on paper, and learn how to use pencils to control depth and tone. Over the course of the workshops, they get to draw a number of objects and details that they are interested in.

The sessions conclude with a literacy session in which we encourage the children to answer questions about their favourite item: what it is; where it came from; what adjective they might use to describe it; a simile they might use for it; a question they might ask of it. These questions and answers are then used by the young people to write and edit small poems, either individually or collectively.

The sessions have proven very popular with local schools, with some schools visiting regularly for this purpose. The children taking part have also brought their parents and families to our museums to share their enthusiasm.

Since the workshops started, we have run over 100 sessions for over 2,500 participants. The Art and Science of Noticing was recently shortlisted for the Museums and Heritage Educational Initiative Award 2015.

Being shortlisted for the award made us very proud, but our greatest satisfaction comes from the way the sessions excite the participants. They combine art, literacy, enquiry and analysis in a fun way that sends away the children – and even their teachers – buzzing with what they have experienced.