Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist – Barnsley Museums: Families in Lockdown

Barnsley Museums: Families in Lockdown - a Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council project - has been shortlisted for Best Arts Project in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts Awards.

Barnsley Museums are passionate about sharing their sites and collections with families across the borough, including in areas of deprivation so closing their doors in March 2020, and then working within tier 3 restrictions, meant continuing their family provision in meaningful ways, using different tools. Thus ‘Families in Lockdown’ – a programme of physical and digital activities designed to hit the needs of families with children of all ages across the borough and beyond – was born.

As no-one could visit the under 5s ‘Wow said the Owl’ exhibition at the Cooper Gallery, storytelling films, activities and dance workshops were all created and shared online to take the place of the regular weekly under 5s sessions. This summer, ‘Wow Wednesdays’ gained national recognition, winning the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Awards from Home in the category of Best Film.

As lockdown progressed, families were becoming tired and needed inspiration. Summer Staycation consisted of six glorious virtual experience days to immerse the whole family in – inspired by Barnsley Museums’ five sites and collections.

With wellbeing at its heart, Barnsley Back Yard Club was aired on a weekly basis during lockdown devised and presented by Harry (aged 10), helping families make the most of their own green spaces, however small, while learning about nature, promoting wellbeing and an interest in being outdoors.

Barnsley Museums Learning Team spoke to partners in the Barnsley Schools Alliance, Barnsley Family Centres and the Barnsley Cultural Education partnership who all highlighted the problem of high levels of digital poverty in Barnsley, meaning delivering digital family activities alone would miss some of the key audiences the projects were trying to reach across the borough. Working with the Schools Alliance, Barnsley Council Area Teams and Early years teams, 500 Barnsley Museum makes packs were distributed over the school summer holidays to children on free school meals in areas with highest deprivation levels in Barnsley. The packs were designed to encourage and support parents and children enjoy creative play together at home over the school summer holidays. A further 500 packs are planned for distribution over the Christmas and February half-term holidays.

Barnsley Council as a whole, its Senior Leadership and Finance teams has recognised the value of the work the Museum Service was doing through lockdown, recognising the value of culture to support wellbeing and change lives, awarding £18,000 to support digital learning activities – without which this project would not have been possible. Barnsley Museums’ Families in Lockdown project was an important support to families’ wellbeing and gave significant access to stimulating informal learning at a time when schools were closed.

What the judges said:

“An incredible range of activities providing inspiration for children and families during the pandemic. It was great to hear about children being involved as creators as well as recipients of the project.”

“An impressive project to help families during this challenging time. It is especially notable that digital poverty was recognised and catered for. It is heartening to hear that Barnsley Council has recognised the outstanding work the Museum Service is doing and provided financial support. A huge amount of time and effort has gone into this project and it shows. Congratulations!”