Fantastic for Families Award 2020 case study

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich:
Creating a family-friendly venue, guided by local families

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich was the winner of the 2020 Best Family Venue category.

The National Maritime Museum is a local and national museum and wants to be a useful, relevant space for the local community. It has been the aim for several years to increase the presence of families at the Museum and to increase their confidence to share what they want and need from their Museum. We have found ways to provide families a platform and have taken steps to follow feedback and make the Museum more family friendly.

What are we doing?

In 2015 the Museum opened ‘AHOY! Children’s Gallery’ for under-7s. Working with early years specialists, the Museum consulted with families about the gallery’s content and format. The result is a space that is differentiated according to child development stages and that encourages exploration of the Museum’s themes and collection using imagery, hands-on activities, and imaginary play. The addition of the AHOY! gallery visibly brought more early years families into the Museum.

Families actively collaborate on museum programming. In 2017 an extensive evaluation of the programme that spoke to local visiting and non-visiting families was used to direct the strategy. For instance, families wanted trails around permanent galleries. In 2018-19 we consulted on, developed and tested self-led trails with local families. Working with Sally Davies and Lucy McDonald we ran consultation sessions to discover how families wanted to explore the Museum. Many assumptions about the way families might engage with a trail were overturned, including that they wanted a specified route through exhibitions. These trails now form a popular part of the daily offer.

‘Sensory Explorers’, a toolkit for sensory, self-led, exploration was developed by Creative Producer Vicky Cave in collaboration with local early years and SEND families. This project recognised that several of our older galleries didn’t lend themselves to sensory engagement, which was particularly important to these audiences. Working with local families we experimented with different tools and activities to create a kit that supported a tactile Museum journey.

two children in a boat in the museum

Since implementing this kit, more SEND families have been sharing their needs with us. In 2019 families with neurodiverse children reached out asking whether the sensory environment of ‘The Moon’ exhibition would be a barrier to their visit. After consulting with the Greenwich branch of the National Autistic Society and Autism in Museums, we determined that a relaxed exhibition opening, with some changes to the environment would best welcome these families. This involved teams across the Museum working to consider lighting, interactives, sound, and conservation. Ongoing feedback has led the Museum to review accessibility for these families and begin the process of becoming ‘Autism Friendly’, with more relaxed openings planned.

The Learning team’s community development strategy looks at audiences as communities of people, place, identity and interest. This has led to a focus on supporting family identities often underrepresented in the Museum, for instance with the LGBTQ+ Family Network. Families at the annual LGBT History Month family event, ‘Out at Sea’, were looking for LGBTQ+ programming throughout the year and the opportunity to meet other LGBTQ+ families in a safe, welcoming space. The LGBTQ+ Family Network runs bi-monthly and provides a safe space for families to socialise, engage with the collection, and comment on the Museum and its programming.

Finally, we want to be a welcoming space for all families and have responded to calls to share our commitment to those who are breastfeeding. Working with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, we have created a manifesto and ensure all our staff buy into the Breastfeeding Friendly Scheme.

Next steps

Lockdown was a striking time to re-evaluate our purpose and our audiences’ changed needs. Lockdown clarified the impact that digital resources can have for audiences who can’t visit, ensuring they remain able to connect with their community and have active, collection-based learning experiences. The increased presence of learning resources on the Museum’s digital channels opened the collection to more families, including those who had not previously visited the Museum.

Going forward, online engagement is something we are keen to maintain and develop, ensuring not only that the Museum is family friendly and accessible, but that digital access to the museum and collections is too.

Being shortlisted for the Best Family Venue award will have a huge impact on our future plans. Not only does it demonstrate the museum’s ongoing commitment to families, it will encourage more families to actively engage in the shaping of their local museum, creating a deeper sense of ownership.

Two parents or guardians get creative at a craft table with a little girl

Our Top Tips

    • Give permission by creating opportunities for co-curation: families want to take ownership of spaces to make them more useful, relevant and engaging to themselves, but they feel like they need to be invited to participate.
    • Target your projects: Families are busy and need to feel like the outcome is worth the challenges of participating. Take time to find families who will benefit and who will be invested in the project.

The National Maritime Museum explores Britain’s relationship to the sea. Visitors discover histories of exploration and encounter that have shaped the UK and the world.

The Family Programme uses collections to encourage encounter with other cultures, to start conversations, and to develop confidence.

24 July 2020



Katie Cassels, Family Programmes Producer for Royal Museums Greenwich

Katie has managed the Family Programme at The National Maritime Museum since 2018.

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23 July 2020