In 2020, Reimagine, Remake, Replay (RRR) won the prestigious Museums Change Lives Award from the Museums Association. This award celebrates the impact museums have on the lives of their audiences, which in our case is a community of young participants and museum practitioners.
Read on to find out more about how and why we are changing museum spaces with young people.
RRR connects young people across Northern Ireland with their heritage in meaningful ways. We work with participants using creative and digital methods, enabling them to explore, interpret and respond to museum collections and spaces. We provide skills-based programmes, events, workshops, paid and volunteering opportunities to empower young people with the learning, platforms and support to do this.
Our project is led by a consortium including Nerve Centre, National Museums NI (NMNI), NI Museums Council (NIMC) and NI Screen, and is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This one-of-a-kind initiative provides unique resources and combined efforts for young people across Northern Ireland.
Our work is spread across Northern Ireland in 6 local and 3 national museums - now we even operate online. These are all heritage sites where participatory engagement and youth-led activities happen regularly, with fantastic outcomes and enriching experiences for all involved.
Now in its third year, the project has engaged over 3,800 young people in creative programmes, events and workshops. For a small team, we have achieved a lot; including 37 youth-led events, 270 creative sessions, 770 core/creative participants, 400 digital badges awarded and 1,700 creative outputs produced.
The project has a three-tier approach for programming:
- Reimagining the Past (event management and interactive development)
- Remaking the Past (utilising digital fabrication emerging tech)
- Replaying the Past (film-making, photography, digital storytelling)
- These categories expanded as we responded to remote delivery and the challenges that brought. However, they were also changing before that as we actively empowered and supported groups of young people to shape, steer and lead the project.
Traditionally, 16-25 year olds have been an under-represented group in museums and the heritage sector. We work to ensure museums are inclusive and engaging spaces for all young people. However, RRR has proved that not only should young people be included in museums but that empowering them to participate and co-create in these spaces has endless benefits for young people and, equally, for museums.
The project is not afraid to take on topics that are important to young people. Listening to participants allows the project to stay relevant, socially engaged and provides an important platform for participants’ voices. This cultivates confidence and a strong sense of self-worth in participants, who have their opinions heard and see the power they have to change how the project works. RRR impacts young people’s view of heritage and its place in their present and future:
“I loved how uniquely Northern Irish this programme was and it gave me a lot more pride about being from here, which is something I usually don’t feel. I often feel women can be neglected from NI history so this group felt especially important”
Hannah Sharp, 24, Participant
“Taking part in RRR has definitely changed my outlook on heritage and museum spaces. Beforehand I thought they were quite scary or intimidating to go into because I didn't want to break anything but whenever, with RRR, I've been in the museum there are genuinely welcoming people who are really interested in what our opinions are as young people.”
Natalie Cole, 23, Participant turned RRR facilitator
Time and time again, participants develop new ways of actively responding to museum collections. The agency and authority participants achieve in museums is the pride and joy of our project. We attribute much of our success to this way of working, including the Museums Change Lives Award.
We recommend a youth-led approach to all organisations and it can be implemented in ways that are low-cost right through to at organisational level. Some of our best examples of being youth-led include:
- Appointment of Youth Ambassador Niamh Kelly in paid full-time post
- Supporting participants to facilitate activities, as assistants and leaders, where they come up with the idea and share their skills
- Offering young people multiple platforms to showcase their creative work; e.g. publish content on RRR website social media platforms, exhibiting artwork in museums in innovative and creative ways
- Youth-led events, where young people design, develop and deliver their own experiences that the public can enjoy and benefit from
- Youth steering committees on specific strands of programming
An end-of-year report by external evaluators RF Associates has shown an increase in confidence, knowledge and digital skills of young people. As well as technical skills, participants develop skills like storytelling, problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, historical understanding and communication. RRR has partnered with more than 40 expert facilitators such as designers, makers, authors and interactive developers, so participants access an array of expertise.
Participants do not need any prior knowledge or skills to take part; there are no barriers according to their educational background or past experiences. Our programmes are always completely free and we provide paid opportunities for participants, as well as access to learning and equipment. The professional development element of the project is particularly important and we are keen that participants can take away this learning and use it in their futures, both within and beyond the museum sector.
RRR supports participants’ wellbeing by offering opportunities to be social, creative and develop. When Covid-19 started, RRR adapted to a sustainable online mode of delivery so the project could continue to engage with young people during lockdown and beyond. Maintaining our benefits for young people was imperative, as it became clear that under 25s would be significantly impacted financially and in terms of mental health during lockdown. Participants remarked that the project has helped them look after their mental health, make friends, try new technologies, learn skills and feel connected to heritage.
External evaluation has shown organisational change for partner museums through increased knowledge and skills of heritage staff. For example, the Ulster Museum has created a new Tech Lab space for workshop delivery. During the lifetime of the project, this will act as a base for RRR programmes and both project staff and participants influenced its design. This facility will form part of the project’s legacy, remaining after the project’s end for future creative technical programming run by the museum itself.
Museum staff’s testimonies align with this. Fashion Curator Charlotte McReynolds explains that with the opportunities the project provides for learning through technology, “it’s a two-way street – an added benefit of being part of RRR has meant that my social media and tech skills have improved, meaning I’m better at sharing the collections digitally than I had been previously. Right now, as we’re all staying safe at home, those skills are more vital than ever.”
This award proves that RRR and its amazing participants are leaders in changing that culture of exclusion and are doing so in a meaningful, creative and lasting way – a life-changing way.
The project will leave a legacy to ensure museums are spaces where young people’s voices are heard, their ideas are realised and their heritage can be reimagined, remade and replayed.
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