GEM Interview with 2019 Kids in Museums Family Friendly Award Winners, Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum
We were so excited to hear that Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum were recognised for their amazing educational programmes with the 2019 Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award. Learning Officer Lynsey Anderson gave us her take on what makes the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum so special and perfect for families – read on!
GEM – Hi Lynsey! Thanks so much for talking to us today about Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, winner of the Kids in Museums 2019 Family Friendly Museum Award. Could you start by telling us a little bit about the museum? What is the history of the site and what makes it special?
Lynsey – Our Museum is in two parts, we have the Victorian weaver’s cottage where the Scottish Industrialist and Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 and our Museum Hall, which includes objects related to his life and legacy. Carnegie is such an important character in Dunfermline’s history but also worldwide – did you know one of the corporations he funded is the reason we have Sesame Street? It’s also lovely as his wife Louise bought the birthplace cottage as a 60th birthday present and she supported the design of the commemorative museum hall following his death in 1919.
GEM – Could you tell us about your current family programming? How have you made your spaces extra inviting and special for families?
Lynsey – We absolutely love having families come to visit and being family friendly is important to us. We have an ongoing family programme, including our very popular monthly Under 5’s ‘Bobbins’ session as well as drop-in activities during the school holidays, more in-depth bookable workshops and family fun days. This year we have also started relaxed out-of-hours openings for autistic children and young people. We run all our sessions free of charge to remove the financial barrier for local families and ensure as many people feel welcomed as possible. However, I think what we really try to do is make families feel welcome all the time, not just during special events. We really believe that little things make a big difference: Every visitor gets a personal welcome and we have bright yellow areas with family interactives and hands-on activities throughout the museum, plus a family area with toys and books. Not forgetting to mention our 10 things for families to do lanyards, explorer backpacks, an I-Spy trail and our ever-popular bunny hunt. We also try to keep changing things to encourage people to come back; we do this by having different trails throughout the year. The most important thing though is our front of house staff– they are incredible at welcoming families and helping them to enjoy their visit.
GEM – Engaging the community and serving their cultural needs is a big part of family programming. How has Andrew Carnegie Birthplace done that? What kind of partnerships have you formed that have been integral to your success?
Lynsey – I think the best thing has been reaching out and listening to the families who do visit us, but also trying to reach those that don’t. We have many conversations through our social media and ask questions about when we should run activities and what themes people want to see. We also work closely with a local organisation called Fife for Kids who are amazingly supportive and come and trial our activities and help promote our events to wider audiences.
We also have a close relationship with the other historic sites in Dunfermline – we are part of the heritage quarter and this year we launched a family past-port scheme with three sites in Dunfermline offering drop-in self-led activities during school holidays. Participants are given a “past-port” which gets stamped at each site and a certificate on completion, so it’s a really fun way to explore Dunfermline and it’s all free.
GEM – What are some plans for the future? How does Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum plan to grow and adapt to society’s changing needs?
Lynsey – We have lots planned for the future, although with a small team and budget it can be challenging to grow as much as we would like – we always seem to have so many ideas and not enough time! At Christmas, we are running our first (hopefully of many) eco-friendly crafts session, encouraging people to reduce plastic use over the festive season through making their own plastic-free crackers and making recyclable wrapping paper. Being more sustainable in our programming is definitely a priority for us!
Another area we are particularly working to develop is our accessibility, we want to continue to grow our autism-friendly programme and next year introduce BSL programming and interpretation around the Museum. We are currently trialling nursery workshops for the first time and are hoping to introduce a gardening club and a kids club too with the goal of supporting children’s wellbeing through our programme and embedding longer, more meaningful engagement with our local community. We are also always open to suggestions and ideas and the great thing about being a small team means we do have the power to be flexible and adapt when things come up or people come to us with ideas!
GEM – How has life been pre-post your major award? Has this recognition changed your visitor numbers and levels of engagement?
Lynsey – The most exciting thing about winning the award is that it has brought new families into the Museum, particularly as it happened just before half-term. It was our busiest October half-term ever and we have already beaten our total visitor numbers from last year! We have had lots of local press attention, which has helped spread the word and encourage more local families to visit and enjoy what we have to offer. Our online traffic and social media engagement has hugely increased too. It has also been a lovely confidence boost for our staff and it has been particularly lovely that there has been such praise and recognition for our Museum Assistants who work really hard to give everyone a good experience.
GEM – What advice do you have for other museum/heritage educators? How can they promote excellence in welcoming families and providing engaging activities and trail for all ages?
Lynsey – I think my biggest tip is to think beyond a family ‘programme’ – how can you make your museum family friendly for anyone at anytime, not just during special events. Can you offer somewhere for packed lunches? Can you add an area for families to relax and play? I like to think that we show how small changes like simple trails and activities can make a big difference to a family’s visit (and don’t need to cost a lot of money!). Anything that encourages families to feel confident and comfortable in looking round and exploring your museum is a winner! Also, take the time to do a wee audit using the Kids in Museums Manifesto, both as staff and through talking to your visitors – taking part in the Family Friendly Award meant we looked at this really closely and could see the areas where we felt we were strongest and the areas we needed to develop.
Thanks for your time Lynsey and we can’t wait to see what Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum does next!