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Spektrum in London, May 25th – 27th 2022

Artwork by John, Alice & Andrew - the Outside In Pathways Thursday Group

Spektrum in London, May 25th – 27th 2022

Text: Paul Swift (Outside In Pathways, London). Artwork by John, Alice & Andrew from the Outside In Pathways Thursday Group, inspired by The Clash. Photos: Spectrum Group.
The Spektrum group
• Paul Swift (Outside In Pathways, London)
• Deborah Evans-Stickland (Outside In Pathways, London)
• Ann O’Toole (Outside In Pathways, London)
• Alexander Vander Stichele (FARO, Brussels for Wednesday only)
• Katrijn D'hamers (FARO, Brussels)
• Antonella Poce (University Roma Tre)
• Mara Valente (University Roma Tre)
• Anna Berkowicz (National Museum in Krakow)
• Izabela Stawarz (National Museum in Krakow)
• Agata Jablonska (National Museum in Krakow)
• Ángeles Sánchez-Elvira Paniagua (UNED, Madrid)
• Covadonga Rodrigo San Juan (UNED, Madrid)
• Ana Garcia Serrano (UNED, Madrid)
Summary of activities
• Visit the Cartoon Museum
• Visit the Science Museum
• Visit the LookOut wildlife centre
• Meet the Outside In Pathways Thursday Group at the V&A museum
• Project meeting
• Project social event
• Visit the Postal Museum and ride on the Mail Rail train
• Visit Kensington Palace
• River trip to Bankside

The Cartoon Museum

Wednesday 25th May
In the morning we visited the Cartoon Museum and met Amba Malekin-Goneni, the Community Engagement Officer, who told us about making the museum more inclusive for people with ASD.

Key points:
• This is Amba’s first job since leaving art college where she studied ceramics.
• The focus of the museum is the history of British cartoons and caricatures, and the permanent collection is arranged as a timeline from 18th century to the present day.
• The museum was founded by a group of British cartoonists who didn’t have space to display their own collections of famous cartoons.
• This is a very small museum, comprising two exhibition rooms and a learning space. The museum employs 7 members of staff, plus some volunteers.
• A young man with autism, Jadore, works as cartoonist in residence. He was introduced to the museum by his art teacher at school.
• Things got off to a slow start with Jadore - he would come into the museum and not do much, but it was important to let things proceed at a pace he was comfortable with.
• Amba showed us cartoons in the collection that Jadore has used as inspiration. She said it was best not to explain the content of these cartoons to him, but instead let Jadore find his own meaning in them.
• Postcards featuring his work are sold in the museum shop. Jadore monitors how may have been sold and this is important to him. He has also decorated the glass panel at the entrance to the museum (above left).
• He has produced some great drawings and the museum has offered to buy them for the collection – they assumed he would be pleased about this - but he declined, saying he wants to keep it for himself.
• Being a small museum makes it easier to initiate autism-friendly adjustments. All staff share the same workspace, which aids communication. She has not had any resistance to ideas for making the museum more autism-friendly.
• She found a creative solution to loud hand dryers in the bathroom (often a source of discomfort to people with ASD) which could not be turned off, by having ear defenders positioned by the door.
• Amba appreciates having colleagues with experience (such as Steve, the learning officer) and Claire Madge (Blogger in residence) with whom she can discuss ideas.
• Her plans for improving inclusivity for a neurodiverse audience include changes to the way collection is hung (presently at various heights) and using clearer language in the labelling of exhibits. She talked about the importance of seeing the changes as making the museum more accessible for everyone, not just a specific group.

Over a working lunch at the Science Museum we had a session with Sevinc Kisacik, Community Partnerships Producer, and Fiona Slater, Head of Access & Equity at the Science Museum, together with Claire Madge, who is the parent of two children on the autism spectrum, a museum consultant and a blogger.

The Science Museum

Key points (Science Museum):
• The SM runs an ‘Early Birds’ session once a month for children and young people aged 0 to 16 years. The sessions are designed to provide a relaxed environment for people with neurodiverse conditions (such as ASD), but they are open to anyone who would benefit.
• The sessions are free, although admission is by pre-booked ticket. They sell 1000 tickets for each session in the expectation that 500 will turn up. Given the size of the building, having 500 people in it feels empty.
• They also run ‘Night Owls’ which is for an older age group (18+) between 18.45h and 22.00h. Some people come with carers or family, while others come on their own. These sessions are harder to market, and so fewer people attend than Early Birds. The SM is trying to find more community links to promote Night Owls.
• The have also run ‘SENsory Astronights’ which comprise a programme of activities that take place through the night.
• All of this is expensive – the first sessions were funded with £100,000 from an anonymous donor – mainly because of the additional hours of staff time that are required. However, “the staff love working it – they all sign up”.
• They have a relationship with Ambitious About Autism to supply ‘patrons’ who are people with autism who help run the Night Owls sessions.
• If you have a small budget there are still modest adjustments that can make the environment more relaxed for example, by identifying existing spaces that are quieter and visited by fewer people, adjusting lighting, and reducing noise (turning off hand-
dryers and grinding coffee away from the place it is served). Start by thinking about the triggers that cause a reaction: outside experts can help with this.
• It is important to provide people with information about what to expect before they visit. SM do this by providing a visual story and sensory map
• SM do a 30-minute training course on autism for all staff. They don’t need detailed knowledge: the most important thing is to make staff feel confident in dealing with people with autism and this involves giving them permission not to step in when something happens and which is being managed, perhaps by a family member.
• If in doubt about something that could make your museum more autism-friendly, just try it!
• And remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel: “sometimes doing the same thing is OK, it doesn’t always have to be shiny and new”.
• Next step for the SM is to promote neurodiversity within the organisation through internships, volunteering, and employment). This year the SM is running a project to recruit volunteer ‘Ambassadors’ to work in the museum, paying their expenses.

Key points (Claire Madge):
• Recommends the Open University online module Understanding Autism (see the link in her email below).
• Use social media and blogging to raise awareness – she spoke about her own experience of this and the response she has had, especially from the families of people with ASD.
• ‘Trial and error’ are part of the process of making museums autism-friendly. Don’t be afraid to fail. “As a parent [of a child with ASD] you don’t get it right every time, so why should we expect museums to get it right first time?”
• Evaluation is important. Get experts involved from the start. She mentioned work she has done interviewing families that visited the British Museum to get their feedback about what worked and didn’t work.

The LookOut in Hyde Park

The final visit of the day was to The LookOut in Hyde Park which is one of the host venues for Outside In Pathways new Steppingstones service which gives young people with ASD experience of cultural venues to help them make decisions about their future.
Chelsea and Alek took us on a tour of the centre, showing us how the public can discover wildlife in the centre of London. They explained how they are supporting young adults with autism to act as visitor guides.
Thursday 26th May
In the morning we spent time with Outside In Pathways’ Thursday Group at The V&A to find out how people with complex needs can be helped to find creative inspiration in museum collections. OIP’s animator, Shelly Wain, asked members of the group to search the museum for an artefact that interested them and make sketches of it that could be used to create a short animation using Stop Motion Studio. The group’s animations have been shared.

The Outside In Pathways Thursday Group at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Key points:
• Use the collections in museums to inspire people’s creative impulses.
• Use a range of artistic media and employ creative professionals to lead the process.
• Think about ways to share the products of these activities: exhibitions, online film launches, fabric design etc.

In the evening we had a buffet meal and drinks in the garden of Ann Thornton-Patterson, a friend and supporter of Outside In Pathways. Many thanks to Ann for her hospitality. The Spectrum team were each presented with a kimono featuring artwork inspired by an exhibition Inside the Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition which ran at the V&A in 2020.
Friday 27th May
In the morning we visited The Postal Museum, which has won several national awards for its approach to accessibility, where we met Hannah Clipson. The museum has worked with Ambitious About Autism - a campaigning organisation established by parents 25 years ago - to develop resources and events to support autistic and neurodiverse people. The visit also included a trip on Mail Rail, an old underground system for moving mail across London.
The Postal Museum

Key points:
• The Postal Museum is relatively new (5 years old) and is based in part of the old Mount Pleasant sorting office that managed postal mail for London until recently.
• The Mail Rail system was used from the 1920s until the early 2000s.
• Mail Rail required a lot of adjustments to accommodate people with neurodiverse conditions because the small size of the trains, the noise, the lighting, and the smell can create a sensory overload.
• Initial visitor feedback about the museum was that it wasn’t meeting the accessibility needs of marginalised and vulnerable groups.
• The museum commissioned an expert audit by Katie Gonzalez-Bell, an accessibility consultant.
• Following the audit, the museum recognised it could not meet all the needs identified, so they prioritised the needs of the most excluded groups: people with ASD, people with sensory impairments, and people with physical disabilities.
• They decided on a collaborative approach by co-producing an accessibility plan with people with lived experience.
• They have developed a relationship with Ambitious About Autism (AAA), an organisation whose primary aim is supporting young people with autism through advocacy, creating opportunities (for employment etc), and upskilling.
• Through AAA the museum recruited 6 young people aged between 18 – 24 years to come up with a 1-year plan. “They wouldn’t let us be tokenistic”.
• “We wanted them to take ownership of the resources here, so we arranged a facilitated visit.” This involved pre-planning with questions about what to look out for and for the things that don’t work for you. It helped to show them ideas from other museums such as The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
• The team came up with a plan that included events (e.g relaxed visiting times), sensory bags (shown in photo above), and 2 visual stories produced by them.
• Hannah spoke about commissioning the films – they showed the film maker an example from the Museum of Scotland, the young people briefed them on how to present the film, and on the content.
• A good tip when working with people with lived experience is to double the amount of time you would normally allow for tasks.
• The team of young people have been involved with the museum for 3 years now. Both they and AAA are paid for their time.
• The young people work at the museum once a month – half a day co-producing the accessibility plan and half a day doing artistic or operational activities (such as cataloguing).
• We are now moving to a hybrid system of working via Zoom (which we found worked during the pandemic) and in-person.
• The team was involved in the museum’s response to covid.
• They work on the welcome desk and in arts and crafts sessions run by the museum. Evaluations have shown that visitors notice their presence.
• The museum is planning another audit soon to see how we are doing post-pandemic.
• The museum employs 60 staff plus casuals.
• The senior management are very supportive of Hanna’s work: “One thing makes my life very easy – there was buy-in from the very top. That can make or break your programme.”
• She has encountered no resistance from staff, although some have lacked confidence about working with people with autism.
• Most importantly, the accessibility programme is covered by core funding.

In the afternoon we visited Kensington Palace which is one of London’s Historic Royal Palaces and a partner in our Steppingstones project. Paul spoke about some of the stories connected with palace, including Peter the Wild Boy, and how Outside In Pathways uses them in its arts and heritage projects.

Kensington Palace

We ended the visit with a trip by boat from The Houses of Parliament (which, along with the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, is also a partner venue for Outside In Pathways) down the River Thames to Bankside which is home to Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, and opposite St Paul’s Cathedral.

Many thanks to all of you for making it such an enjoyable trip to host. On behalf of everyone at Outside In Pathways, I hope that you found it useful and informative.
Paul Swift
1st June 2022
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