‘Dig This! Gardening for Happiness and Well-Being!’ is a collaborative project between our group of 16 MA students from the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), University College London and The Geffrye, Museum of the Home.
We completed the UCL IoA Museum and Site Interpretation module from 2012 to 2013. In the first half of the course we were introduced to the theory behind the diverse aspects of creating interpretation and communicating effectively with audiences. We were then given the chance to apply this practically at the Geffrye through research and creating new resources based in, and new workshops and events inspired by, their period gardens. We created a new audio tour, a children’s trail, produced family and adult learning activities and promoted all through postcards, a blog and online marketing designed and distributed by our group.
The intent of our project was to increase visitor awareness of, and engagement with the Geffrye’s period gardens. By advertising the project and new activities and resources to Hoxton and Hackney audiences, we hoped to re-establish the gardens as a focal point for the local community. We selected ‘well-being’ as the main theme for the project, and aimed to establish the museum gardens as an ‘oasis’ in the centre of the city, where visitors are encouraged to explore the concepts of social, physical and environmental well-being and personal pleasure as inspired by gardens over the centuries.
Main challenges/opportunities and how they were tackled
Our student group was divided into four ‘sub-teams’ that mirrored departments within the museum. These were: the Project Management Team, the Communication Team (comprised of the Audience Researchers and Audience Evaluators), the Learning and Interpretation Team and the Content and Resource Development Team. Each sub-team worked on a specific aspect of the project and met regularly, as well as with the larger student team and with our museum counterparts. Additionally, we consistently communicated via e-mail, Facebook and the project management tool Basecamp.
Each sub-team within our group faced very distinct challenges, but some of the main ones were the following:
The Project Management Team sometimes found it challenging to troubleshoot and to cater to the individual needs of team members. In order to best manage the group, this team found it useful to call full team meetings with an open and collaborative atmosphere so that all opinions were heard. Specific agendas to address particular issues were created, and the team kept track of individual students’ needs and progress.
The Marketing Team’s primary challenges included the production of marketing and publicity materials in formats with which team members were not initially familiar, such as Photoshop, web resources such as blogs, and the use of social media. The Marketing Team members overcame this independently through researching and using web tutorials. Additionally, input from the rest of the team was invaluable, in order to best take advantage of the existing skills of fellow team members.
The Marketing Team, along with the Evaluation Team, was managed by the Communications Team Leader. The role of the team leader was to recognise and manage the link between these two teams, and draw the teams together in understanding, maintaining and growing audiences for the project and the museum. Because of the size of the team and different deliverables, this could also sometimes be challenging.
Working on this project was a very rewarding experience that developed our knowledge through practical, hands-on use of the theoretical learning we had acquired through the course at UCL. It gave us transferable skills and ‘real-life’ experience which will hopefully enhance our employability, both in museums/heritage and generally. Through it we built relationships with individuals and an institution within the sector; access we may not have had without this collaboration. Meanwhile, the project was very beneficial for the museum in helping it further its commitment to working with young people as co-producers. Our participation offered them fresh, new perspectives, a breadth of creative and inspiring ideas and an enrichment of engagement opportunities for an important museum space and local resource – their period gardens.
Through the course of the project up until the present:
259 visitors participated in the family days in April and May
103 visitors participated in the adult event and private view in May
75 calls were made to the mobile phone-accessible audio guide in the week since it went live
1,500 postcards publicising ‘Dig This!’ were printed out and distributed locally
There have been 1,221 ‘Dig This!’ blog views
The family trail and audio tour panels will stay in the period gardens until 31 October 2013. By the end of the project we forecast that approximately 2,500 visitors will have come through the period gardens and seen the children’s trail and audio tour panels.
Student and staff feedback
Han Tao, UCL team member, Dig This! project:
This was the best course I have taken! The project allowed me to touch on various practical issues around the museum sector and increase my understanding of this profession. Meanwhile, as a member of Communication Team, I learnt design skills and built my marketing knowledge, which has enhanced my employability.
Sophie Burfitt, UCL team member, Dig This! project:
From this project I have learnt invaluable lessons in the realities of working in a museum. I’ve gained an understanding of the importance of budgeting, time management and meeting multiple expectations when working as part of a team. One of my greatest learning outcomes from the project has been an increase in confidence within a group: in my role I had to chair and lead discussion at whole team meetings, present at panel meetings and represent students to the museum. The lessons I have learnt from this project will serve me in great stead in my future career in the museum industry.
Alison Lightbown, Head of Learning and Engagement, Geffrye Museum:
It is always a pleasure to work alongside students from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL; they bring new ideas to the museum, energy, enthusiasm and some much-needed manpower. They also help us to keep in touch with the latest theory regarding museum practice. This year was no exception; the students carried out both audience research and subject research before creating some new marketing materials, imaginative events, and new interpretation for the period gardens: an audio tour and a children’s trail. This is fantastically helpful as it has helped us to pilot ideas for garden interpretation over the next few years.
Theano Moussouri, Museum and Site Interpretation Course Co-ordinator, UCL Institute of Archaeology:
The partnership started out in 2009, based on the working relationship I had previously established with the Alison Lightbown, Head of Learning and Engagement, and Christine Lalumia, the then Deputy Director of the Geffrye Museum. The partnership is founded on a strong commitment to training young museum and heritage professionals and is built on a solid basis of complimentary goals and recourses. The Geffrye Museum is renowned for its learning and engagement work which extends to training the next generation of museum and heritage professionals. This fits well with the Museum and Site Interpretation course at the UCL Institute of Archaeology which aims to develop the students’ conceptual understandings and practical skills required to enter the very competitive sector of museum and heritage interpretation. Working in partnership, we have developed a living laboratory that integrates the strengths of mentoring, group work, academics and client-centered experiences.