A blog post by Jennifer Ingham, Project Coordinator
Hello everyone – “A History of Lancashire in 70 Objects” is now underway and I have probably spoken already to your venues about the project, your progress and to offer any support you may need! It is my role as Project Coordinator to offer advice and support to all venues so don’t hesitate to contact me if you need to!
Last week we had a steering group meeting to discuss progress and highlight any issues that we were finding as the project develops. I have found from talking to staff in the museums, art galleries and heritage venues that December is a difficult month for many of you. With the festive period coming up and other deadlines in the way, it may seem daunting to get your community engagement done in such a short period of time but never fear. We want everyone to have the chance to get involved so we have extended our submission deadline to 31st January 2017. This should give you all a bit of breathing space and allow venues who have yet to consult the community a chance to think on methodologies over Christmas and launch when you get back in the new year. So far we have 34 interested venues and many more wanting to take part!
A Lancashire Collection curated by the public…. engaging your community
Remember engaging your community to choose your final object is really important. One of the main aims of this project is to engage new audiences and increasing footfall at the venues taking part. The greater involvement the public have in your choice of object, the more we can guarantee that our successful items are things that people will be inspired to see. Community engagement you do now can start to build relationships with your visitors beyond this and give them a vested interest in your sites.
Also, don’t think you need to limit items to collections you already have on display, if there is something really exciting/unusual in your stores that has a fantastic story behind it then put it forward to the public as a choice. If it wins there will be an opportunity to bring it out and display it for the duration of the project.
Think about your stories. I visited the Woodend Mining Museum on the outskirts of Burnley some weeks ago to discuss their options for community engagement and the criteria that items needed to fit. Carole took me around the site and told me the stories around her objects, ranging from personal, inspirational and just unusual, like the pit pony model made lovingly by an amateur to the exact measurements of an original pony (with ping pong balls for eyes). They are closed to the public over winter so the final item will be voted on by local ex-miners and their families at a special event they are running before Christmas.
Woodend Mining Museum
So far I have seen a variety of different methods of community engagement ranging from onsite/online polls, to venues opening their full online collection to the public. There is no wrong or right way to do it, the more creative you can be the better, but there must be this element surrounding your object choice.
One of the more inspirational methods I have seen has come from the Blackpool Museum Project. They shortlisted a selection of five different items that represented the Blackpool area – a souvenir plate of the Great Wheel that was at the Winter Gardens until 1926, the crocodile puppet used by Joe Green on Blackpool beach for 40 years, a 1960s Blackpool Donkey puppet signed by Cilla Black, a wax cylinder record of the iconic song “I do like to be beside the seaside” and a Blackpool Tower Circus poster. They spent a full day engaging one of their local schools with their volunteers telling the story of each of the items to the children. At the end of the day all of the pupils cast a vote for their favourite item.
The winner of the Blackpool Museum Project vote announced on Twitter
Other venues have gone down a simpler route by having a polling station on site. This can be done really simply and cost effectively through voting slips, using fun items (like small tokens/models) into containers or even asking people to use coloured stickers on a tally to vote for your objects. People love to be hands on, the more colourful the better. Postcards can be a great route for smaller venues to allow people to choose their items and even note down why it appeals to them. Finally if you have mailing lists, use those and ask your regular visitors what they would like to see represented from your sites.
At Warrington Museum they are advertising through their social media and doing an online poll on site. At Manchester Museum visitors can drop a token in the jar representing their favourite item.
The Atkinson used Surveymonkey, an online poll which people could vote on five shortlisted items. They had an image and short paragraph about the objects and their story to inform the voters which has worked really well. Finally if you have mailing lists, use those and ask your regular visitors what they would like to see represented from your sites.
Social media can also be a really useful tool to advertise the opportunity for engagement or use for a public vote. For venues that have Twitter please follow the project at @70_objects for updates and use the hashtag #Lancashire70 if you are posting about the project!
Good luck and have a lovely Christmas.
Jennifer Ingham, Project Coordinator (Jennifer.Ingham@lancashire.gov.uk)