Informal Learning: National Museums Scotland Museum Socials
Since October 2015, National Museums Scotland’s Learning & Programmes Community Engagement team have been hosting monthly Museum Socials for people living with dementia, their family, friends and carers.
There are an estimated 35 million people with dementia worldwide. By 2050 it is projected that this figure will have increased to over 100 million. In Scotland alone, it is estimated over 90,000 people are living with dementia.
Being rooted firmly in the Learning & Programmes department, the socials provide an informal learning experience, exposing participants to a range of opportunities to engage both with the national collections and with wider social activities.
Christine McLean, Community Engagement Manager, set up the Socials programme as a collaboration with National Galleries Scotland, The National Library of Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Each venue offers a monthly dementia Social event.
At the National Museum of Scotland, our Museum Socials are delivered by volunteer Guide, Louise Donnelly and two members of our Enabler team, Rachel Drury and Fiona Johnston.
Based on the Meet Me At MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) model, these offer a free, informal learning and social opportunity for people living with dementia, their family, friends or support workers. Participants can telephone to book or just turn up at 10:30am for tea/coffee and cake before settling down to a short topic introduction often using objects from our handling collection. Each session normally also includes either an art or craft activity or music and singing, ending with an optional visit to the galleries.
You can check out our current programme here: www.nms.ac.uk/museumsocials
Over the last 11 months we have welcomed almost 200 people to our Socials, many of them regular, repeat participants. On average, we have 18-20 people at a session, usually in pairs – either husband and wife, mother and son or friends. We have also welcomed small groups from residential care homes.
We are able to pick up on personal stories and interests and incorporate these in to future sessions; for example, one person enjoys colouring in activities, so we also ensure we have a stack of good, clear line drawings of some of the objects we will discuss, for Alex to work with during the session.
Other people prefer music and singing and our most popular session to date has been Robert Burns: Fiddle Music, when we celebrated the life, work and songs of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns, with singing and fiddle music in a section of the museum rescued from an 18th century building in Edinburgh. Participants were each given a songsheet and gently encouraged to sing along with Rachel and Fiona, both of whom were wearing 18th century costume.
The session included a short tour led by volunteer guide, Louise Donnelly, giving the background to the life, loves and works of Burns. At this session, we had several guests from residential care homes, some of whom had been quiet and non-communicative until the singing started; we noticed a significant change in their behaviour as they started to follow the lyrics or sing along.
Encouraged by this, we ran a session on the Jacobites, this time bringing in a professional historian and re-enactor as Prince Charles Edward Stuart ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, to demonstrate the costume and weaponry of the period.
The sessions often generate more questions than we can answer, but we do our best to follow up each and every enquiry and are delighted that participants are enjoying the informal learning aspects of the Socials.
The main objectives of the Museum Socials were to provide a relaxed, informal social opportunity for people to come together and explore an aspect of the National Museum Scotland collections. Of course, learning is implicit in all that we do, but this was never an intentional objective for our participants who tell us they are just so pleased to have somewhere to go, each Friday of each month, where they know there will be knowledgeable, friendly people delivering light-touch sessions.
Our third series of Museum Socials will get underway from September 2016, focusing on ten new Art & Design and Science & Technology galleries that opened at the National Museum of Scotland in July 2016. Together with our partners at the National Galleries Scotland, The National Library of Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, we are looking at ways to measure and evaluate the impact of our Socials programme, whilst retaining the very special trust that we have built with our guests.
Christine McLean is Community Engagement Manager (Public Programmes) at National Museums Scotland. She has responsibility for developing and delivering strategies to widen access and diversify National Museums Scotland’s audiences across Scotland.