Overcoming obstacles to hold a successful Access Day event

case studies, museums & galleries, 2016, Kent, England

Overcoming obstacles to hold a successful Access Day event

Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery took part in Disabled Access Day in March, whilst in the planning stages of their event disaster struck - twice! The lift broke down and the roof of the museum had a leak, which meant the exhibition was temporarily taken down (over Disabled Access Day). However, the team didn’t let this phase them and still went on to hold an event.

So, what do you do in the face of such obstacles? We caught up with Jasmine from the team at the museum and art gallery who told us how the team rallied troops and used local connections to put on a successful event.

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Why did Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery get involved in Disabled Access Day?

As a museum we are always looking at ways we can champion access and wanted to take part in the day to promote what we offer, but also to find out what we can improve upon. We have a listed building and the museum hasn’t been updated for many years so although we are aware of improvements we need to make, it’s important to speak to our visitors about what they want too. It was also a perfect opportunity to work with the Library that share the building with us and work as a team and support what one another are doing.

It was a great way for me personally to find out more about all the wonderful things the Library offer and so share the projects I am working on with their staff equally.

What did you do on the day?

We had a welcome desk in the entrance to the building with staff from the Museum and Library there to meet and greet visitors and promote our services as well as encourage visitors to take part in the craft activities, object handling or visit a part of the building they wouldn’t usually.

We were making cards at the art and craft table and were able to speak to children and their families about the importance of Disabled Access. We had an object handling station where visitors could see curiosities from the museum collection such as a large piece of coral, an evacuee’s teddy bear and a taxidermy bird! This was a great chance for museum staff to meet new visitors and let people know about our ‘Behind the scenes’ tours for blind and partially sighted visitors.

What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

When I found out the lift had broken down I was optimistic and expected it to be fixed in time. However, when it became apparent that this wasn’t the case I was worried as let’s be honest, it’s a little embarrassing putting on an Access Day event with no lift. But it was really important to me to still put the event on and take part in the day as generally we do have a lift and are accessible. I began to liaise with the Library team to find out about using their space for the activities, as at least this way we could be on the ground floor.

Just a couple of days before the day was set to take place we had a leak in the art gallery roof meaning the exhibition had to be taken down and the space closed. I was disappointed as the art gallery is one of our biggest draws for visitors, but, these things happen! I made sure all the staff working on the day were briefed and we were able to let our visitors know that the exhibition would be opening again soon and encourage them to come back. Despite these obstacles, the day was a success and we were able to give out plenty of information and speak to our visitors.

What feedback did you get from visitors on the day?

Generally, people were really pleased to see us getting involved; we had comments from visitors saying it was important to promote awareness and they were thankful for our support. We did of course have some disappointed visitors looking to visit the art gallery or hoping to use the lift, but staff understanding and enthusiasm meant we were able to advise them to come back and make the most of our services next time, as well as show them the activities we had on the ground floor that day

Whilst manning the welcome desk we had visitors come and give feedback about access issues to the wider town, I made sure to collect this feedback and shared it with the Access Group and Equalities Officer at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. We were also able to give advice to people who had enquiries on behalf of friends or family with access requirements. This was one of the most important aspects of the day, as many people took leaflets on behalf of other people.

How has Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery benefited from taking part in Disabled Access Day?

I am most proud of working as a team with the library and building a stronger relationship with them. We share a building, and although we are two separate services our visitors and users are the same so it is important to work together to make the building the most accessible and welcoming it can be.

The day has also put us on the map thanks to Euan’s Guide, and moving the event to the Library space also meant we could engage with a new audience and encourage them to come up stairs to the museum & art gallery and take part in our events program. I didn’t want to measure the day’s success in numbers, but rather a feeling of how happy our visitors were and at the end of the day, I was positive that they had had a great time (and staff did too!).

What advice would you give to other venues considering taking part in the day?

Just go for it! Don’t be afraid of not being the most accessible venue, as by taking part it shows you are taking steps to improve things and listen to what your visitors want. I found the Disabled Access Day website had loads of useful resources and the staff were so helpful in answering any questions I had. Also, when planning your event, make a list of possible obstacles and think of ways to get around these. That way, should anything go wrong you are already half way there to solving the problem.