Early Morning Explorers at the British Museum, April 2020

In 2019 the British Museum launched its Early morning explorers’ events; relaxed sessions for families who would benefit from visiting the museum in a quieter environment. The events are for both children and/or parents with sensory processing requirements including Autism so that families who would otherwise be unable to attend can enjoy the Museum together. These were set up in direct response to feedback gathered from families through a survey on existing experiences of the British Museum, which asked what barriers they faced in visiting and how these could be overcome? 122 responses were received and from these quieter openings were identified as one of the main ways families felt they would be able to visit the Museum. An advisory panel was then setup consisting of 14 members who had lived experience of these barriers to accessing the Museum to discuss wider Museum accessibility and co-develop the early openings. The Museum also worked with consultant Claire Madge, Autism in Museums founder to gain insight from similar initiatives across the wider sector.

Word cloud created from feedback from families on their previous experiences of the British Museum

The first early opening took place on Sunday 29 September 2019 between 08.00 and 10.00 when the galleries could be opened exclusively for the early morning guests. The theme for the event was Ancient Greece and consisted of five sensory-friendly activities including storytelling and object-handling that could be done at the family’s own pace. Adaptations for the events included: hand dryers and alarms being switched off; Autism-awareness trained staff; a clear event route and visual signposting; pop-up quiet spaces using portable sensory equipment; and ear defenders available to borrow.

Trojan horse activity and pop-up sensory space at the inaugural Early morning explorers’ event at the British Museum. Copyright British Museum
Pop-up sensory space at the inaugural Early Morning explorers’ event. Copyright British Museum

We also thought about the entire visitor journey starting from the moment the family decides to attend the event, as we knew from family feedback, the journey leading up to the visit can be just as important as the Museum visit itself. One week prior to the event we send out a range of resources and information to help plan and manage anxiety:

  • A guide to getting to the Museum including visual walking routes
  • A visual story
  • The British Museum Sensory map
  • The event map and programme

The pilot event had 120 attendees with 50% of families visiting for the first time. Feedback from visitors highlighted that these events are crucial for them to be able to engage with the Museum and its collection as a family and provide important social opportunities for both the children and parents attending:

‘Thank you British Museum for an awesome Early Morning Explorers event. These are such a rare treat for those not able to manage the noise and bustle of usual opening hours. It allows really fabulous engagement with unparalleled collections – and a lot of fun too! Please keep these invaluable sessions part of your regular itinerary’

Yvette Gen, parent

Word cloud created from feedback from families on the Early morning explorer’s events

The Museum also introduced ‘Early morning explorers revisited’ in response to lockdown and as part of the #MuseumFromHome initiative. This saw the adaptation of activities from the Ancient Greece event so that they could be done by families at home, including an online sensory storytelling session by Olivia Armstrong and an ‘Under the sea’ themed sensory box inspired by the world of the Nereids. You can find these resources here:

Worksheets: https://www.britishmuseum.org/visit/accessibility-museum#accessible-resources

Storytelling session: https://soundcloud.com/britishmuseum/early-morning-explorers-sensory-storytelling-the-story-of-odysseus

The Early morning explorers’ events are part of a wider Education and Access programme supported by the Lord Leonard and Lady Estelle Wolfson Foundation. Through this work the Museum has also introduced a British Museum sensory map; a supported volunteer placement programme; and relaxed workshops. The work is always expanding and over the next year will see the introduction of a range of new offerings including relaxed, evening events and a Museum pre-visit guide.

If you would like to find out more about these events or accessibility at the British Museum, visit our website https://www.britishmuseum.org/  or email access@britishmuseum.org

Holly Wilson – Programme Manager: Wolfson Project at the British Museum.

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