Experience Barnsley Museum is a local history museum in the centre of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. Visitors can uncover the incredible story of Barnsley, told through centuries-old artefacts, documents, films and recordings donated by people living and working in the Borough. It is a museum by the people, for the people and about the people. The museum has a programme of temporary exhibitions relating to Barnsley's past and present, and a range of activities and events throughout the year including family activities, school workshops, sessions for community groups, and more – all delivered by our passionate staff and volunteers. It is one of five Barnsley Museums' sites across the Borough, all of which are dedicated to improving access and inclusion for visitors, staff and volunteers.
Experience Barnsley was delighted to be crowned the winner of the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award for Best Accessible Museum in 2022. The Family Friendly Museum Awards were launched in 2004, and celebrate museums, galleries and heritage attractions that go the extra mile to provide an excellent family friendly experience. Each year the prizes are awarded to museums, galleries, historic homes or heritage sites that have made outstanding efforts to welcome children and families and respond to their feedback. It is the only museum award in the UK to be judged by families.
The team at Barnsley Museums, of which Experience Barnsley is part of, have had a long-standing commitment to improving accessibility and inclusivity at our sites. We believe it is hugely important for museums to be as accessible as possible to all audiences so that everybody can enjoy the wonderful objects, buildings and spaces they preserve. All activities and initiatives at Experience Barnsley are designed in close consultation with families and disabled audiences, and we constantly evaluate our offer and ask for feedback to make improvements. We also engage expert consultants to support our work and advise us on being more disability friendly. We have a rolling programme of disability awareness training for all staff, and our entire team supports our access work through their passion and dedication to providing a warm visitor welcome for all.
Experience Barnsley runs a high-quality programme of accessible events and activities which impressed the shortlisting panel and the family judges. The museum has accessible onsite facilities such as a Changing Places, portable seating and a quiet "chill-out" space – as well as being breastfeeding friendly. There are plenty of activities for families to take part in on gallery, such as market stalls, fairground rides and opportunities for dressing up. There are also self-led trails and scavenger hunts for families to do around the museum if they would prefer not to take part in a facilitated workshop. We have sensory backpacks for SEND visitors including items like ear defenders and fidget toys.
We hold monthly relaxed/quiet openings at Experience Barnsley and our other town centre venue, the Cooper Gallery, to ensure an accessible day out for families with different needs. These last for the full day so that families can visit at a time which suits them.
Following training from sector specialist organisation VocalEyes, we have been working on audio descriptions of collection items at Experience Barnsley and our other venues. We have also created a series of Makaton videos to highlight different objects in Experience Barnsley Museum and ensure different audiences can access them. These are both available on our website but also as QR codes in the museum, to ensure multiple different interpretation options are on offer.
Our family workshops have an accessible and inclusive focus. As part of our family holiday programme, Experience Barnsley runs "SENsational" – a multi-sensory experience for children and young people with PMLD or ASD and their families. Alongside SENsational, our family holiday programme aims to be accessible and inclusive for all abilities. We focus on sensory activities, storytelling and craft sessions, allowing children the flexibility to be creative.
"Really enjoyed this morning's session. Our son is very complex needs and he loved the sensory items available for him to play with. Being able to interact with his peers is always a good experience for him from a parent's point of view, it is nice to have other parents to chat with that understand". – Quote from SENsational participant.
We run weekly Under fives sessions during term time at Experience Barnsley, the ";Teeny Time Travellers Club". Under fives and their families get to explore the museum in a different themed session every week, using play, song, storytelling, crafts and sensory activities. The sensory and relaxed nature of these sessions makes them suitable for all abilities and access needs.
Post Covid-19 pandemic, we have continued to offer virtual resources for families who would prefer not to visit in person. All online resources created during periods of lockdown and restrictions such as 360 tours, storytelling videos and craft instruction sheets are still available for families to enjoy.
Winning the award was a fantastic acheivement for us, and really confirmed the fact that the work we are doing is meaningful and relevant to disabled people. We have been working towards this point for a number of years – the sessions and resources we have available didn't just appear overnight. It's vital to take time to consult with your audiences, making sure that disabled people's voices and needs are represented. It's also important to be prepared to pilot new things, and make changes based on open and honest feedback from visitors and participants. That being said, don't feel you need to wait until things are "perfect" before you start trying them out. Making a series of small changes and building on them as you go is much better than doing nothing at all. Also remember that there is no such thing as "fully accessible".
Learning points from our experience of applying for and being granted the award include ensuring that you maintain excellent communication at all times – both within your team and with your visitors. Making sure every member of your team knows about the accessible provision you are building into your offer will avoid any confusion when members of the public ask about them. Ideally, everyone in your organisation would be confident enough to answer access queries rather than directing them to a particular staff member who might be on annual leave or out of the office.
It's also very important to promote your activities widely to the public in order for people to be able to plan a visit your museum or heritage site and be assured they will have a good experience. Having a really informative, clear website outlining all the things you have put in place to help disabled people access your museum is absolutely crucial. Finally, a warm welcome goes a long way – involving your whole team in access and inclusion training and development opportunities means that everyone is confident in providing a warm welcome to visitors of all backgrounds.
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