On Thursday 7 March, team members, participants and supporters gathered in Taunton to celebrate our National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England funded project Travelling Together: Museum Journeys Towards Inclusion and Collaboration. 

Over the course of nine months, this project took eight museums on a learning journey which supported them to learn, plan and take effective action for genuine inclusion and greater accessibility. Alongside these museum journeys, the project prioritised peer learning, recruiting seven Champions to design supportive sessions on accessibility, engagement and inclusive programming, for anyone working or volunteering in museums to attend. The Champions and cohort museums were guided throughout by a carefully selected Steering Group, who joined them on the training and at peer networking sessions, providing advice to the project at key points. As the project nears its end, cohort museums, Champions and Steering Group members came together to reflect on the progress they have made and what they have gained from the experience. 

Decorative image To begin the day, Esther Gill of Bright Culture, the project’s external evaluator, led an evaluation activity with the participants to collect feedback on the breadth of the project. Working in groups, the participants captured their most challenging and most rewarding moments from the project. These insights will support South West Museum Development (SWMD) to understand the impact of the project against its projected outcomes and report this to funders. 

Cultural Producer for Travelling Together, Clare Ferdinando, then presented a summary on Travelling Together, highlighting the high level of involvement the participants had given to the project and the wide-reaching impact of the project activities. Over the course of the six Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training sessions, 114 attendances were made from the eight cohort museums, with 14 additional attendances from other museums and sector support organisations. At the time of the event, seven of the 10 peer networking sessions had been delivered, with 129 attendances from 44 different organisations.  

Decorative imageClare then interviewed representatives of cohort museums, as well as Champions and a Steering Group member, to hear about their journey and plans post-Travelling Together. Jan English highlighted the way in which the project has supported the American Museum & Gardens to join up previously disconnected pieces of work to embed inclusion. Their leadership team, including trustees, are going to receive training from Inclusive Recruiting to help the team to work together to embed EDI across the museum’s work.  

“(Travelling Together) raised awareness within the organisation around the need to have EDI embedded in all that we do and also that every member of the team is accountable and responsible for our own actions”.

Jan English – The American Museum & Gardens 

Jon Ducker from Haynes Motor Museum said that he was nervous at the start of the project, as the museum felt like they were starting from scratch when it came to EDI. However, he found the training eye-opening and refreshing, and left motivated to turn this training into day-to-day activity. The museum is now undertaking an access audit, with staff and volunteers, as well as visitors, in mind, to provide a basis for change.  

“The Travelling Together program and grant has been the catalyst to start positive change. It has created an openness for having discussions and sharing knowledge on EDI, as well as acknowledging what we did not know”.

Jon Ducker – Haynes Motor Museum 

Decorative imageFrancesca Hollow spoke as both a Champion and as a representative from a cohort museum, the Museum of East Dorset. She recalled that the recruitment training session was a lightbulb moment – becoming aware of barriers the museum was unintentionally putting in place. This prompted an immediate change of approach. To enhance accessibility for visitors, they’ve used their project grant to film a British Sign Language (BSL) tour, with short clips to be used on their website too.  

“Being part of the programme has allowed us to accelerate our work in this area – particularly creating an EDI action plan which includes deliverables by multiple Trustees, as well as staff and volunteers”.

Francesca Hollow – Museum of East Dorset 

Grace Melsher at Torre Abbey also spoke as a representative of a cohort museum and a Champion.  Torre Abbey have used their project grant to deliver internal training with Steering Group members Sam Munday Webb and Louisa Adjoa Parker, focusing on lived experience. Many attended this training, from volunteers through to senior staff at Torbay Council. As a Champion, Grace was not necessarily approaching the role from lived experience, but wanted to meet museums on the same journey as herself. She chose to lead peer networking sessions on access reviews and audits – which are needed for Accreditation – for smaller museums and museums who want to do things differently. Jess Hoare, Strategic Advisory Board member at SWMD, spoke at the session as an expert on using access audits. 

Decorative imageLastly, Clare interviewed Steering Group member Louisa Adjoa Parker, who said that on the project she felt valued, respected and supported as both a human being and a professional, as someone who represents multiple groups – she felt she could be her authentic self. 

“A shining example of how to do EDI well”.

Louisa Adjoa Parker  

To finish, chair of the SWMD Strategic Advisory Board chair Stephen Boyce, led a discussion on future support, beyond the Travelling Together project, and how to embed long-term change both in our participant museums and across the South West.  After taking comments from the audience, access to the ‘oxygen’ of peer support and expert input appeared to be critical for ensuring these journeys continue with energy and integrity. Travelling Together has been a huge springboard for many museums to develop and action their EDI aspirations. While the project is drawing to a close, we are exploring how to ensure its legacy, so watch this space!