By Gemma and Emma from London Museum of Water and Steam
Helpful, inclusive, engaging, fun and collaborative. Our values as a Museum are clearly written on the whiteboard in the office. Not that we need a visual reminder in large red text; they are core values for us as individuals too. Our values guide and influence all the work we do as a Museum, from our public programming and our community engagement to our social media presence, and much more beyond that. They enable us to constantly question, reflect and improve our offer. What can we do to be helpful? How can we work with our community? What can we do to be an inclusive and fun space for everyone?
Working with our community partners
We have a number of community partners and are always embracing the opportunity to work with new groups. We nurture relationships with longer standing partners too, one of which is with Speak Out in Hounslow. Speak Out is a charity which works with people with learning disabilities and autism in the London Borough of Hounslow and support people to speak up for themselves, have a voice and be heard. We share our spaces with them every week, without charge, for a range of activities which has included arts and crafts, gardening and line dancing.
We recently invited them to officially become our Community Access Advisors, empowering Speak Out’s members to share their lived experience with us and let us know how we can make things more comfortable and welcoming. We worked with their drama group to create an access video for our website. The members led the way in terms of what they wanted to highlight and talk about. We invited them to be completely honest about how they felt in different Museum spaces and where they could see improvements to be made. The final product is a source of great pride for the group. Ramandeep, one of the members in the video wrote ‘it(‘s a) very good video it was excellent what we did.’ Their insight and advice will continue to support us to develop and improve.
We are proud to also work closely with Our Barn, a charity which runs community-based activities providing learning, life skills and social interaction for young people aged 16-35 with learning disabilities or autism. We teamed up with Our Barn to turn our café into a training café for their young people and a space which serves the local community in several ways from an inclusive stay and play for toddlers, to digital inclusion and initiatives to help combat loneliness and isolation. It is a partnership which continually grows and evolves with shared values which means that Our Barn can work independently as well as collaboratively within the Museum space.
Pump and Grind Coffee Shop, run by Our Barn
Developing our learning offer
Thanks to Sam Bowen’s Developing SEND-Inclusive Learning with Confidence with GEM and support from a local primary school we have been able to develop our learning offer to be more inclusive.
We now have a learning offer especially for SEND groups visiting the Museum, where we work closely with visiting teachers to ensure it is tailored to meet the needs of their pupils. A new sensory guided exploration, complete with photographs to explore, objects to handle and smelly boxes, gives a multi-sensory experience of the Museum. Our new welcome pack includes photographs of our team and the Museum spaces to help teachers and their pupils feel comfortable before the arrive. When the school who helped develop this offer visited, the pupils recognised Emma instantly and felt comfortable. After their visit the teacher feedback to us: “Fantastic day, well planned and delivered, I would highly recommend to any SEND group.”
However, many of our changes improve the experience for all children and young people. We have created visual timetables for all school visits which are displayed and referred to throughout the day and the new Welcome Pack is shared with all teachers when they book their visit. Our new booking forms asks key questions so we can support pupils to the best of our ability during their time at the Museum:
- Does any of your group have physical access needs? How can we best support them?
- Does any of your group have a visual or hearing impairments? How can we best support them?
- Does any of your group have SEND needs? How can we best support them?
- Does any of your group have sensory processing needs? How can we best support them?
- Is there anything else you feel it is important for us to know?
These questions have also adapted and introduced as part of our STEAM Explorers Club booking forms and our new volunteer induction packs. This has enabled us to have meaningful conversations and learn more about we can do to support those who visit, volunteer and work with us.
Improving our website
Before the launch of our new website last year, our access information consisted of a blue box about wheelchair access on the main visit us page. Now, we have a dedicated access and facilities page with information for visitors. As well as Speak Out in Hounslow’s access video, there is information for visitors who are wheelchair users or who’s mobility is limited, those who are blind or partially sighted, and families, as well as a map of the Museum.
We have also created our top things for families to do, where we share our top 5 things for babies, toddlers, kids, parents, SEND families and school holidays. Our aim is to offer a fun and engaging way for visitors to discover what we have on offer and to help them plan their visit. We’ve received heart-warming feedback for this edition to our website, for which we are very grateful.
Our website is not perfect, and there is much more we can do to improve it. We’re also reading the Heritage Access 2022 report and will use this, along with the benchmarking tool, to improve our website further.
For more information visit: The London Museum of Water & Steam (waterandsteam.org.uk)