In a pre-coronavirus world, we at the Learning and Engagement Team spent our days engaging school children; families; community groups and those with access requirements to enjoy and use the truly amazing collections of Durham University. We were able to work with all walks of life in amazing buildings – with equally amazing collections – Durham Castle, Palace Green Library and the Oriental Museum and hopefully, raise aspirations for young people in our region to go to university and have as much fun with researching collections as we do.
With coronavirus all this changed. Schools closed, care homes shut their doors and school exams were cancelled. The team had two options: 1) despair and drink a lot of tea… or 2) regroup and re-plan (actually, both options included a lot of tea!). Naturally, we went with option 2. Once our home working routine was established (see above – lots of tea!), we had to consider what was possible with the resources we had access to in order to engage our community with our collections in a different way during lockdown.
Like many other visitor attractions, we realised the website was our best way of providing lockdown resources. With the help of colleagues from across the department, the team were able to start generating amazing content and virtual engagement ideas. Within two weeks we had the beginnings of a website, the start of online teaching and an idea which we were running with – ‘Learning Online’. We sent out surveys to understand what our regular users want – which other than being let out of lockdown (sorry, that’s not up to us!), was having a range of accessible activities to entertain all ages.
It was clear immediately that parents who now found themselves as trapped teachers needed some different activities. The BBC announced ‘Culture in Quarantine’ and a national initiative to get people families feeling cultured again. This was called #MuseumFromHome and was due to be launched on 30th April. A Thursday, which the team realised, was 6 working days away. We now had a deadline to get the first batch of generated content live.
The Durham University Marketing and Communications team as well as museum colleagues helped us to get the initial promotions, including a press release started. Suddenly this all felt real, the website is now becoming a true portal for people stuck at home to feel a part of their local museums and collections from afar. Especially those who regularly attended our now postponed engagement events.
The launch has now happened and we continue to generate activities, but what are we actually doing? A whole range is the answer! Currently we have 30 young people from the Girls Network doing their Bronze Level Arts Award virtually using our Art Collection (and one doing Silver level!). We are going to be streaming our under 5’s groups ‘Little Dragons’ from the Oriental Museum Facebook page from Wednesday 6th May at 10am. We are generating online resources for secondary school teachers who have lost their inspiration for topics such as the Norman Conquest using Durham Castle. Developing One Note courses for post-16 pupils wanting to learn more about research skills before they enter university. Engaging with our local care homes with craft activities who are sending amazing art works for our online community gallery. Our family activity programme is now online and ready for people to freely download as well as a whole host of resources we already had, or have newly made, to support primary and secondary aged children being home schooled in their history topics.
It is not the same as being in a museum, an archive or a castle. But it something which resembles normality for those that enjoy visiting our venues, ‘geeking’ out about the collections, getting creative and learning about our truly magical and culturally rich world of people. That is what collections are, the stories of people. Coronavirus is a reality now but one day will be our story and perhaps, we will be teaching it as part of our collections. No matter what age you are, you can enjoy those stories and learn.
We are a university learning team and we are here to help people learn, engage, try something new and inspire that even in these dark times, university is a great place to go and explore and one day, we will all be able to do this again together.
Explore here: https://www.dur.ac.uk/4schools/learningonline/