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TWAM: connecting beyond the building

Sheryl McGregor, Head of Communications at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums talks with the North East Culture Partnership about the impact of COVID-19 on their organisation and how they have adapted to the new landscape.

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Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums exists to serve its audiences and communities. We normally welcome around 1.2 million visitors a year to our nine venues.

As COVID-19 took hold, we were just about to launch into a new season, and many of our venues are only open on a seasonal basis. We had also just launched new exhibitions at the Laing Art Gallery and the Great North Museum: Hancock, which are now behind closed doors.

However, our buildings and collections are simply the tools we use to share stories and engage with people and therefore it was crucial that we quickly found new ways to connect that went beyond entering our buildings.

TWAM online

Our first step was to package our museum and gallery experiences to share digitally e.g. virtual tours, online albums of collections, podcasts, blogs etc.

We also started to involve staff from across the organisation in generating new digital content – from our learning and communities staff to our front of house teams and curators.

New Challenges

Like others across the sector, we faced a number of challenges, paramount for us was maintaining the quality of content, particularly across a large and complex organisation. We have a great deal of content opportunities and so many willing participants who wished to contribute, we had to reconfigure how we coordinated that organisation-wide.

We also had to remind ourselves to ‘slow down’. We were aware of the vast amount of content moving online, there was so much out there – we wanted to not only make sure that our audiences had the best quality digital experience from us, but that our staff could take their time to create and develop that experience.

Reimagining, redesigning and rethinking

The organisation has come together to create online experiences for our audience that are memorable.

For example; our front of house team created short films about the history of venues and took part in ‘recreating paintings’, taking photos of themselves that we could share on social media.

Our learning teams started to think about existing activities they could adapt for schools and home learning as well as for family entertainment – they then worked with the comms and design team to get this in a format to be shared digitally.

Our outreach team have created resources and online sessions for the groups they work with. Printed resource packs will be used in care homes to support carers to do activities with older people inspired by stories and collections from our venues.

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“Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has collaborated with Northumbria University to launch the Museums, Health & Social Care service.

This is a set of resources and training workshops created by social care professionals, academics and museum professionals to support health and social care professionals to use cultural activities for specific care and clinical outcomes. The activities provided are primarily for older people, but these activities can be adapted or added to, in order to meet other people’s requirements.

To connect with older people in care homes we have asked staff to write postcards which will be sent out to care homes via our community engagement networks and through an independent age charity.

We are also sending postcards via the ReCoCo Recovery College who run a variety of creative, educational and support-based classes for people in recovery from mental illness, substance misuse, trauma or distress.”

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Our curatorial staff have been writing blogs and social media posts about little known stories from our collections, producing virtual tours of exhibitions people can no longer see and helping us with content for #MuseumsFromHome.

The store at the Great North Museum part of a virtual tour

As a result of this activity, we have seen our blog views increase by 49%, virtual tours of the Great North Museum have increased by 64% and our Pinterest engagement is up by a massive 84%!

Coming next

Now, we’re looking to the future and taking a more strategic approach to engagement in this new world.

We have developed 3 cross-venue working groups to reimagine our audience engagement both online and in-venue – the strands the groups are exploring are:

  1. Digital storytelling
  2. Learning and Community engagement
  3. In-venue engagement

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You can find Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums online at:

Our many social media channels  – find links for each on the website. https://www.twmuseums.org.uk/

You can experience Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums online at:

Collections Dive – explore thousands of images of our collections in a randomised way.

Photo album – view historic photographs from our archives. 

100 Objects  – see museum and gallery objects selected to represent the North East’s history of creativity and innovation.

 

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