Remote Audience Programmes — what have we learnt so far?

The recent SEMFed Study Day on March 8th pulled together an interesting range of case studies that evaluated the successes and difficulties of remote engagement. The event covered subjects from virtual learning with schools to online events for community groups, and attendees benefitted from the expertise of a number of organisations with live talks over Zoom.

Talks charted venturing into new programming as a response to virtual, and others found inventive ways to deliver their usual programmes. I think one of the more unusual activities to be translate into a virtual event, with encouraging success, was Britten-Pears Arts’ festive tea dance for care home residents and community groups. Joe Carr (Collections and Learning Curator, The Red House) presented on how they rose to the challenge of creating a lively event that was accessible for all ages and abilities, and created a sense of occasion in collaboration with local groups to create an event that reached a wider audience. He shared some great feedback from care home staff.

Some of the key issues tackled by the speakers were how to adapt your audience programmes to remote access, and how to make sure this online provision doesn’t detract from your online offer yet build a sense of community and participation. Cas Sanders (Learning Officer, North Hertfordshire Museum) detailed the realities and possibilities of shifting to lockdown learning. It was really useful to hear about what can be done with everyday tech such as iPhones, and what materials are essential for decent recordings.

There was good coverage on how people have adapted existing projects to the challenges of the past year, particularly when funding has been awarded set against an engagement schedule. Candida Wingate (Senior Project Development Officer, Suffolk Artlink) demonstrated how The Special Delivery Project was adapted to continue its delivery, linking together children and adults throughout the community through letter writing and crafts. Another project that depended on engagement was the Rendlesham Revealed archaeology project. It had only just started when the pandemic changed all plans. Alice De Leo (Project Delivery Officer, Suffolk County Council) explained how they were able to recreate a sense of the participative elements of the project (in place of object-based activities) through moving to a web-based ‘archaeology online’ format, with a series of talks. Alice gave great insights into the practicalities and lessons learnt for organising and hosting online talks, from marketing to bookings analysis. Clare Fellas (Eastern Area Learning Officer) demonstrated how the Time and Tide Museum shifted their ‘Little Kippers’ group went online, providing engaging sessions to replace the activity-based club. The weekly videos proved incredibly popular; the video format was also successful for schools, and will be a resource that will continue to have value once the museum reopens.

It was also incredibly useful not only to have ‘lessons learnt’ but to get an idea of how museums and projects are planning to move ahead in the continually changing access landscape. The pivot in delivery that heritage staff have achieved is remarkable; so too is the ingenuity in creating ongoing programmes that adapt to changing regulations. What will be factored into plans is re-opening our physical spaces, and it was helpful to hear from Mark Copley (Curator, British Schools Museum) how this was managed over the various periods between lockdowns. He provided practical information and advice on what has worked well for visitors, and what the museum didn’t open or use (such as the tearooms or guided tours).

The event had a great turnout from SEMFed members, and it was really useful to benefit from a number of people’s experiences as the virtual platform freed the event from the constraints of a physical venue. I’m still really looking forward to meeting in person again, chatting to fellow members and seeing these sites in ‘real life’, but the online format definitely has some perks too. The Chat function in Zoom was used well by attendees, and questions were discussed in scheduled Q&A slots which went some way to replicating the face-to-face discussions, sharing specific details and tips, that is the highlight of a SEMFed Study day.