Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery is an independent regional museum with an international reach. Located in the historic city of Carlisle, on the border between England and Scotland, the museum welcomes 250,000 visitors every year. We look after nearly 400,000 cultural artefacts on behalf of the local government covering Fine and Decorative Art, Natural Sciences, Archaeology and Social History. Highlights include the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite artwork in the north of England, an internationally important Roman collection that centres on Hadrian’s Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a huge collection of specimens that represent the flora and fauna of Cumbria, the most bio-diverse county in England. We have partnerships with some of the most prestigious museums in the country, including the British Museum and the Tate, as well as international partners including the Imperial Decree Museum in Xuzhou, China.
The museum’s award-winning learning and engagement programmes bring these collections to life. We have recently launched a Manifesto that puts learning and our community at the heart of everything we do: we want to develop active participants, be inclusive, inspire learning and be a catalyst for thinking differently.
In 2015 we were the national winners of the Telegraph Kids in Museums Family Friendly Award. Kids in Museums are an independent charity dedicated to making museums open and welcoming for all families. The Award has been running for 13 years and is one of the most prestigious museum awards in the UK as it is voted for by the public. This year there were over 650 nominations. Tullie House has been entering the award for a number of years and has made the longlist of twenty every year since 2011. We kept applying as we really believe in families and wanted to shape our programme around this key target audience. We made it to the shortlist of six for the first time in 2015 and then went on to win the award – a huge honour.
Tullie House was established in 1893 and occupies a unique place in Carlisle as a community and tourist asset. The Museum has a magical atmosphere that is hard to put into words. Staff and visitors feel a strong sense of ownership of the space; it is comfortable and familiar and because of this it is a safe space where all visitors, but particularly children and families, can be inspired and challenged to think differently. We subscribe to the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Manifesto and excelling in all of its key areas was a central reason behind us winning the award. Following these principles is simple and does not have to be expensive – we are proud that we won the award without spending thousands of pounds on brand new interactives or state-of-the-art digital technology. We won because we are passionate about families and this shines through in everything we do. Key elements of the Manifesto include:
Begin at Birth Adopting this principle has allowed us to create a programme that focuses on intergenerational learning. Tullie is a space where parents feel comfortable bringing their very youngest. We run Toddler Baby sessions every fortnight in spaces around the Museum, including the galleries and gardens. We offer these sessions free of charge and have created a community of regular mums, grandparents and dads who have adopted Tullie Toddlers as part of their routine. “We love coming to the toddler group, there are always different activities and the staff are very friendly”
Invite teenagers in We are committed to providing an accessible space for all ages, and actively seek out opportunities to work with this challenging but rewarding age group. Tullie has its own young person group (The Youth Panel), who contribute to exhibitions and events and take part in innovative projects. Most recently they have designed and launched an app that takes visitors on a ‘Cultural Crawl’ around Carlisle, featuring film and animation. In order to fully commit to this principle we have embraced inclusivity: as well as engaging with teenagers who are already interested in history, we work with those who may experience barriers to accessing the museum through challenging personal situations. This includes learners from the national crime reduction charity NACRO, and the Carlisle Young Carers group. Our projects often use the National Arts Award Framework, where learners work on projects that develop their skills and achieve an accredited qualification.
On a recent poetry based project: “Because I had no previous experience of spoken word, I found the prospect of the performance quite challenging! Overcoming this really boosted my confidence and I really enjoyed the experience of performing to the largest audience I have ever read in front of.”
Share Stories Interacting with visitors is a core element of our Visitor Engagement team’s role, as reflected in their recent title change from ‘Front of House Team’. They encourage visitors to share their thoughts and memories, using our collections as catalysts for this process. In our Collections Conversation programme, staff encourage visitors to handle and interact with artefacts. Discussions focus on sharing thoughts rather than the right or wrong interpretation of facts. We also hold a monthly ‘Morning at the Museum’ session for adults living with dementia and their carers: at the sessions we use our collection to stimulate discussion, as well as provide a space for participants to make new friends.“I have enjoyed this morning getting together and chatting with people. Enjoyed the friendliness…Looking forward to the next time.”
Reach beyond your four wallsWe recognize that visiting a museum can be intimidating for many people. By taking our collections into the community we hope to break down barriers and help people understand that Tullie House is their Museum – this deepens their support through increased participation but also financially through membership and donations. We do this through regular outreach sessions at care homes, children’s centres, schools and community events and fairs.
Be the core of your communityWe are passionate about making children and adults feel comfortable in the Museum – it’s a key part of our Manifesto that Tullie becomes a “third space” for the community, away from home and work. We aim to do this through our changing exhibition and events programme founded on principles of co-creation, by breaking down economic barriers to access through reduced entry for locals and free initiatives, and by making our spaces as inviting as possible.
“There were community spaces. There was an exhibition about carnivals in Carlisle by a local group. The café had a lovely area with toys that the children could play with. Lovely gardens too. They had that nailed for me.”
The primary pillar of our Manifesto is to create a museum fit for the twenty-first century, a museum that has something to say about Carlisle, Cumbria and the world in which we live; a museum that unleashes creativity and invites co-creation; a museum which is collections based, curatorially informed and audience focussed; a museum with a human face providing a third space anchoring community life. Winning the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Award was a huge step in this direction and has set us on a path that we feel will make the Museum sustainable, resilient and inspirational for generations to come.
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