By Emily Watkins – Learning & Engagement Officer, The Lightbox
The Lightbox is an award-winning charitable arts and heritage organisation with a social purpose to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of its community. Therefore, we put the visitor experience and accessibility at the heart of what we do.
We are quite new in the museum world and being opened in 2007 means that access was at the forefront of our architects, Marks Barfield, minds. We are a five-minute walk to the Railway station and have an accessible car park for Blue badge holders, whilst also having short journey step free access from two town centre car parks.
In 2022 we were named in the Heritage Access report in the top 20 for our access information online; along with some big institutions such as the Science Museum and Historic Royal Palaces. This was a great boost as we are continuously working to improve our accessibility and our information for visitors in advance and on their visit with us.
We know that for some visitors, art galleries and museums can be intimidating places, so we worked on some guides to help prepare themselves or others in their group for their visit. We considered that both adults and children might feel unsure about visiting The Lightbox and so created a Visual Story and a more detailed Sensory Guide to enable visitors to choose how they want to gain knowledge of the building for their visit.
Both of the guide’s contain information to help people navigate our spaces, including thinking carefully about what parts of the building might be noisy or smell different and marked these areas on a map of the building to help people decide which areas they might want to avoid and where they might find a quiet space.
Speaking of which, our Make and Play area was designed with families in mind, but it is also a great place for those in need of a quiet space. It includes comfortable beanbags to relax and unwind, plus a selection of books and objects to create sculpture and magnets to make patterns with. We always recommend this as a place for visitors who wish to find a quieter space, to relax if they need to get away from the busyness of our Learning Studio. We often find people here just having a quiet moment away from the Art stimulation in our galleries.
We have not forgotten our gallery spaces either, with extra seating and glasses for people who are colour blind, to sensory bags for our visitors to explore the collections in a different way. We were lucky enough to work with Sam Bowen on our last Sensory Bag which was part of The Wild Escape initiative with the Art Fund to coincide with our temporary exhibition, Sophie Ryder: All of Us. We were able to improve our understanding and ensure the sensory bags could help users develop their understanding of the artworks on show.
This development was very exciting and got us thinking about our exhibits in a different way. We went through a process of thinking carefully about how we could tell the story of the exhibition through objects, tactile materials and sounds. We considered what a user of the bag might need in order to learn about the characters featured in the exhibition through storytelling and play. Sam encouraged us to think about how different visitors might access the same information in different ways and we then chose relevant objects and sounds.
As part of the project developing the Sensory bag, we also developed a schools pack which can be downloaded from our website. Sam encouraged us to ensure that every activity could be accessed in multiple ways for example through, drawing, writing or collage in order to make sure the pack can be accessed by the widest range of children possible. We are also able to create raised images using our tactile Image printer, for those who are visually impaired if the school lets us know in advance what they need, so that we can ensure they are ready for them. We tend to use a zoomed in area of patterns or scenes, so that visitors are able to follow the lines with their fingers easily.
For many of our young visitors their School visit might be their first interaction with an art gallery so we always want them to go home having had a positive experience, and maybe even bring their family back with them to visit. This means ensuring they have the resources they need to fully participate in the activities whether they are here with their school or with their families and friends.