To say it has been a strange year so far is clearly a massive understatement. By the end of March we had seen fire, flood and pestilence, so it will be interesting to see what history says about this period in future. On a more personal level we’ve all seen our lives disrupted and restricted (for our own good) and we’ve just not been able to take part in all the activities or go to the places we would normally enjoy.
For us in museums we haven’t been able to offer our usual mix of community painting groups, gardening and knitting groups, family activities, arts, crafts and cultural projects, creative learning sessions for schools and other educational groups, larger community events, theatre performances and live music and of course access to our building, grounds and collections.
We have been keeping in touch with our users and visitors as much as possible through social media platforms such as facebook, twitter, instagram and of course this blog. We’ve been providing activities for all ages to get involved with including the annual arts trail and Monday challenges, (what would have been) school holidays fun and some home schooling activities, we’ve been doing little mini-vids and longer vids about all sorts of subjects, as well as writing blogs and information about the things we do, our objects and interesting historical information about our sites and life in the past. For our volunteer groups such as our Friends and gardeners and our community painting groups we’ve been phoning up members for a chat and to ensure they’re safe and well and the painting groups have their own private facebook page and whatsapp to keep in touch.
This has been a rather steep learning curve too as we’ve learned to create and edit videos and provide new activities online and think of new ways of engaging with all of you out there. I hope you’ve been enjoying what we’ve been doing and I hope we can continue some of this once our sites are open again. We are still developing some of these ideas and so we’ll be bringing you new things in the future too – it is very exciting! It has made us look at the ways we can communicate with people differently and in new ways.
However this no substitute for the social interaction and the hands on activities which taking part together involves. By talking to our visitors and users (in more normal times) and by undertaking lots of surveying and by trying things out, you have told us that what you like to do is to get involved, to have a go, to create things and enjoy new experiences, and events and activities of all different types. We know people most visit our sites when we put something on rather than just to look around and all of this we are currently missing and you’ve told us you are missing it too. Black Country people, it seems, are naturally ‘hands on’ and like to have a go themselves and create – it must be the centuries of making stuff, it is just in the blood!
We have had all this in mind as we plan for the recovery and re-opening of our services and how we might develop and transform our services going into the future, while at the same time ensuring that safety and social distancing is paramount in the short and medium term. We’ve been working on new ideas for how we might develop and enhance the visitor experience when you can come along once again and look around our buildings and so we’re getting to grips with some new technologies in order to tell our stories in new, exciting ways.
I think that one thing this period in isolation and lockdown has shown is how much we as humans need ‘other stuff’ to be healthy and happy, and not just our basic needs met.
Of course for some out there they don’t have enough food and a home and their basic needs aren’t met and of course this is the biggest priority. Also it was essential to ensure people did not catch and spread this terrible virus for us all to retreat to our homes and experience life through screens for a while and of course there are those that have had a really difficult time in all sorts of ways and I wouldn’t want to detract from the importance of these.
However in the long-term for most of us we need more than food and shelter, and the last few months have shown us that we need a change of scenery and green spaces, we need experiences and social and cultural interaction (I realise culture is a difficult word but I mean everything from live music to craft activities with the children at one of our museums to story time at the library, craft groups, enjoying an exhibition, painting, large community events and everything in between an beyond) – essentially we need to do stuff to ensure our wellbeing!
Our community group members have told us how much they miss, not just coming along to to get involved and create, to paint, knit or garden but the environment and surroundings of our buildings and their grounds and most importantly they have missed the interaction with others, the working together that these activities bring. Other people have told us they have missed our school holiday activities and larger events and even miss just visiting and looking around.
I think what I’m trying to say is that a lot of the stuff we’ve missed including what goes on in our museums, libraries, parks and at park farm, as well as activities delivered by other organisations is not an add on to life but it is the stuff of life, it is what makes us feel good, boosts our self esteem, gives us experiences and memories and develops us as humans and we look forward to welcoming you all back to our sites soon, although things will look different for a while at least.
We are currently planning and assessing how we can begin to provide our services again, so look out for more information soon. In the meantime enjoy our online activities and information on facebook, twitter and instagram @sandwellmuseums and follow #discoversandwell to keep up to date with all our colleagues across cultural services including libraries, archives, Lightwoods House, Sandwell Valley and Park Farm and our parks and follow Discover Sandwell on facebook, twitter and instagram for online events and activities and lots of information.
Jane – Sandwell Museums and Arts Service