Fantastic for Families Award 2020 nomination

Manchester’s Whitworth gallery:
A special place for families

The Whitworth in Manchester is one of five UK venues shortlisted for this year’s Best Family Venue category.

I think the Whitworth is a pretty special place. In 2015 it re-opened it’s doors after a major capital development which opened up it’s spaces, inside and out, making the building more welcoming to the diverse communities that surround it.

As a gallery that sits in a park, it is pretty unique. We are very lucky to boast an art garden, sculpture terrace and orchard garden, alongside new spaces that embrace the park, such as our landscape gallery, learning studio and the café in the trees which all reflect the beautiful setting.

The open glass facade into the park, not only brings the outdoors in but gives the building transparency, allowing passers-by to see what’s inside, breaking down barriers and softening what can seem an austere historic building.

Despite its ambition and change, the Whitworth is also a gallery that has retained a sense of the personal, the intimate and the playful. It is a place that I love, that our visitors love, and feel that they own.

“We love the Whitworth, we come every Monday. With a visit to the activities, a play in the park and visit to the café we can stay most of the day and it’s free!” – Early Years Atelier Parent

It’s the little things…

We know that it’s often the little things that make a big difference when out on a family visit. As an organisation we’ve tried our hardest to think of everything to make visiting with a family just that bit more brilliant; from mobiles above all our changing mats, to free nappies and wipes in our changing areas, to toddlers in volunteer t-shirts welcoming families in.

As Early Years Producer I strongly believe you are never too young to visit and appreciate an art gallery. We have babies as young as a few weeks old visiting us regularly for our Art Baby sensory play sessions and who we then watch grow up through our programmes.

“My baby LOVES it here. He is active, wide-eyed, bouncy and afterwards he sleeps!” – Art Baby parent

“I truly believe these sessions are good for my health. I feel healed when I come here. An hour in this room makes me feel like a new person.” – Art Baby parent

To help our families to feel as welcome as possible we’ve dedicated a whole day of the week to them. Early Years Mondays at the Whitworth are a firm favourite with our most local families; filled with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers and with them comes noise, pushchairs and mess, just how we like it!

 “Having all our Early Years work on a Monday helps us communicate to our audiences when might be the best times for them to visit to get the most out of their experience. If you have young children then you will feel very at home on a Monday but if you are visiting for a quiet experience then we can let people know that Monday’s might not be for them.” – Visitor Team Manager

Whatever day of the week there’s always something for families to do. As a gallery in a park, we get outside as much as we can, whatever the weather! Outdoor Art Club is our weekly Forest School inspired art session where children under 8 and their families get to explore their natural surroundings through art and play. Feel Good Kids Art Club is aimed at older children aged 8+ and encourages them to slow down, explore mindfulness techniques and connect with nature through art.

And then of course there’s our (very popular!) Art Hampers which are available everyday. Families can help themselves to ‘pick and mix’ art materials, grab a blanket and have an art picnic anywhere in the gallery.

The Best Family Venue…

We are really honoured to have been shortlisted in the Best Family Venue category this year alongside some really strong competition. We really do work hard to allow our building and our workshops to be as open and accessible to as wide a range of people as possible.

In the 2019 Fantastic for Families awards, PLAYTIME, our flagship summer family programme, won Best Event. We were over the moon. Winning the Best Event Award really gave PLAYTIME the credit it deserved and the whole organisation celebrated the win. It also helped to attract interest from external partners as the following year we collaborated with outdoor play specialists Pentagon Play our water themed PLAYTIME.

Ever changing, learning and adapting…

The Whitworth’s founding statement from 1889 is that the gallery and park should be for the ‘Perpetual Gratification of the People of Manchester’; even in the extreme circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic, when it has been necessary to close the galleries, we have done what we can to continue our activities online so that people can access and take part in our programmes from their homes, workplaces or wherever they find themselves right now.

Our regular family programmes such as the Early Years Atelier, Feel Good Kids Art Club and Whitworth Young Contemporaries can now all be accessed online, through a combination of Live Zoom sessions and social media posts allowing us to maintain the engagement with these important audiences during these challenging times.

We thank the Family Arts Campaign for their support and we wish all the organisations in all the categories the best of luck. We look forward to hearing the results in September.

24 July 2020


Lucy Turner is Early Years Producer at The Whitworth.

Founded in 1889 as the first English gallery in a park, the Whitworth has been recently transformed by a £15 million development.

Lucy has been in her role at the Whitworth for 8 years and in that time has built up an extensive programme of activity for families, particularly for under 5s and their parents/ carers.

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24 July 2020