What does it take to be a truly family friendly museum?

 In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I’m joined by my co-host, Paul Marden, CEO of Rubber Cheese. We’re speaking with Alison Bowyer, Executive Director of Kids in Museums and Jenny Hill, Lead Museums Curator at Craven Museum.

“We like to think that we’ve got something for pretty much any kind of museum, whatever your level of expertise in working with families, children and young people is whatever resources you have, how many staff you have.”

Alison Bowyer has worked in the cultural sector for over 20 years with previous roles at LAMDA, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Southbank Centre and the Academy of Ancient Music. The longer her career has continued, the more convinced she is that we still need to work harder to make culture and heritage accessible to all.

She has a longstanding interest in museums and how people engage with heritage, having been a volunteer at Handel House Museum (now Handel and Hendrix) in London and completing degrees in Cultural Memory and History. Alison has been Executive Director of Kids in Museums for seven years. During which time, the organisation has become an Arts Council England IPSOwon a Museum + Heritage Award, developed a new national training programme, established a Youth Panel and delivered a range of new programmes.

Outside of work, Alison is a listening volunteer for Samaritans, a Director of the Family Arts Campaign and likes to crochet.

“It’s definitely had a real impact with our visitors. So we’ve had some visitors coming to site who’ve said that they’ve specifically come because they heard about the Kids in Museums award, which has been amazing. And we’ve had local visitors saying, “Oh, it’s so amazing that our town’s got a museum that’s won this award and it’s really lovely for local people that we’ve got this here.”

Jenny Hill is Lead Museums Curator at North Yorkshire Council, including at Craven Museum in Skipton. She has a degree in History from Lancaster University and a Contemporary History MA from the University of Sussex. She has worked in the sector for almost 7 years and is passionate about community engagement and making museum collections accessible for all. Between 2018-21 she worked on a National Lottery Heritage Funded capital redevelopment project at Craven Museum. In 2023 her team won the Kids in Museums Best Family Friendly and Most Accessible Museum awards.


What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Finding out what it takes to be a truly family friendly museum
  • Why it’s important for you to engage with the Kids in Museums manifesto
  • What made Craven Museum a fabulous winner!
  • How you can enter the awards this year

Skip the Queue Kids in Museum Craven Museum

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your hosts, Kelly Molson and Paul Marden

Our guests, Alison Bowyer and Jenny Hill




Kelly Molson: Hello, Alison, Jenny, and Paul, welcome. Welcome to Skip the Queue today. This is a treat. I am joined by Alison and Jenny today and we’re going to talk about kids and museums. And I’ve also got Paul. Hello, Paul, who has joined me as co host today, and he is going to start the icebreakers. This is new.

Paul Marden: It is, isn’t it?? It’s a brave new world for us, isn’t it? So I’ve got a lovely one for you, Alison. So should we get started? What are you most likely to buy when you exit through the museum gift shop?

Alison Bowyer: Oh, gosh, that’s a really tough one. Definitely postcards. I’m also a sucker for a nice sort of pencil case or I do like museum jewellery. I have quite a lot of tattoo divine, especially museum themed jewellery. And I do also have a pushant for like, cute, fluffy things, even though I’m not a child. I’m 44 years old, but still.

Kelly Molson: I’m loving this. Hello. At museums, Alison is your best gift when she comes because she’s filling up her bag.

Paul Marden: Think of all of those museum gift shops that you can go through with all the jewellery in because there are some amazing ones, aren’t there, that have the jewellery stands in them.

Alison Bowyer: That completely are. And I like to buy all my gifts for other people from museums if I can. So I am a big museum shopper.

Kelly Molson: It’s really lovely to do that. So just before Christmas, actually, I think it was. No, yeah, it was November time. I went over to the Ashmolean museum and their gift shop is really lovely, actually, and had a really good nosy around it in between meetings. And oh, my God, I bought so many of my Christmas gifts in there. It was brilliant. My best friends, I bought Edie a book called Bear at the Museum, which she adores. It’s the most read book in our house at the moment, which is lovely, but I bought my mother in law a jewellery. I bought her earrings from the  Ashmolean, which were absolutely lovely. So I’d never really thought about jewellery from a museum as well. There you go.

Kelly Molson: Good tip for you from Alison today. Thank you. Right, Jenny, have you ever been pulled off by security for touching a museum exhibit?

Jenny Hill: I haven’t personally, no. But I did visit Manchester Museums with a friend and she was told off whilst we’re in the gallery because it was a really pretty furniture display and she just kind of automatically reached out a hand because she was like, “Oh, it’s so pretty”, and instantly clocked by the security guard in the room and we very sheepishly left quite quickly.

Kelly Molson: I love that. It’s really hard, isn’t it, if you’re quite a tactile person as well, and you’re like, “Oh”, because you would do that if you were in a shop, right?

Jenny Hill: Exactly, yes. And she was just really excited by it was kind of just like an instant response. We were like, “Oh, no, shouldn’t have done that.”

Kelly Molson: I love that. One day you will get told off. I know this, and you need to come back on and share that with us. Okay? Right, I’ve got one for both of you now. So, Alison, I’m going to start with you. If you had to wear a t shirt with one word on it for the rest of your life, what word would you choose and why?

Alison Bowyer: Oh, gosh, one word makes it really difficult because it can’t be like a command.

Kelly Molson: Well, it could stop.

Alison Bowyer: Yeah, that’s true.

Kelly Molson: It is a command.

Alison Bowyer: Because I have one at the moment that I’m quite fond of that just says “Be kind on it.”

Kelly Molson: That’s nice. All right, well, maybe I’ll let you have two words.

Alison Bowyer: You can’t just say kind because that sounds really weird. And od, if I’m allowed to, it would “Be kind.”

Kelly Molson: Okay, we’ll allow to, for the purpose of this podcast, we’ll allow to. That’s nice. I like that one. Jenny, what about you?

Jenny Hill: “Be curious” as well. I think that’s something that always happy for our visitors to do when they’re visiting, is to be curious. And I think it’s just a good motto for life, isn’t it, to always be thinking, always be inquisitive. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: They’re very good one, Paul, I’m going to ask you as well. Sorry, dropping you right in it. What about yours?

Paul Marden: Learn. It has got to be if it’s got to be one word, because one’s a toughie. Learn.

Kelly Molson: I like that. Somebody actually went with the brief. Thank you for obeying me.

Paul Marden: Always. I know my place.

Kelly Molson: Doesn’t happen often. All right. Thank you, everyone, for sharing that. I appreciate it. Right, unpopular opinions. What have you prepared for us? Alison? Over to you first, I think.

Alison Bowyer: Oh, gosh, this question made me so stressed.

Kelly Molson: I’m so sorry.

Alison Bowyer: No, no, it’s fine. Not in a bad way, because I was like, oh, my goodness, I’m not sure what I have that’s unpopular. And then I started googling unpopular opinions and I found all these weird lists of things that I never even considered were opinions, like people saying that C is the most redundant letter in the English language and you could replace all C’s with S’s and K’s. Apparently, this is a commonly held unpopular opinion. So, yeah, then I started thinking, oh, goodness, I’m not really sure I’m up to this. I think what I came up with in the end was, which is going to make me unpopular, probably. I think pizza is the worst takeaway because it always survives cold and hard and the topping off, it falls off in transit, so you end up with a really dowsy meal.

Kelly Molson: I love a pizza takeaway, though. I can’t be down with you on this one because I love a pizza. It’s because we never get to eat pizza. Oh, no. Actually, we’ve had pizza quite frequently recently because Edie loves it. But Lee has always been a bit like anti pizza takeaways. Okay.

Paul Marden: I don’t understand people that have the delivery of burgers and chips, because surely that is going to be cold by the time it gets to you and they’re going to be rubbish chips.

Kelly Molson: Yes. That’s weird. Yeah, that is weird. I’ve never ordered a burger to be delivered to my house. That sounds strange to me. Ok, let’s see what Twitter feels about your pizza. Unpopular opinion. Jenny, what about you?

Jenny Hill: Oh, mine’s similar on a food topic, which I feel is going to make me really unpopular. But something I always say that really annoys people is I really hate brunch, which I feel is very unpopular. But I’m a person that gets regularly hungry, so for me, waiting to go out for food in the morning is just not possible. So I will always have to have something to eat before I leave the house. So I’ll always basically have breakfast and then before you know it, I’m eating again. So at that point, it’s essentially lunch. So for me, brunch doesn’t really exist.

Kelly Molson: Okay. All right. Let me argue this point back to you, though. So if your girlfriends or whoever had asked you out for brunch, you’d have breakfast first, right? So you’d have like 08:00 breakfast and then you’d go for brunch. But if you’re always hungry, doesn’t that just mean you just eat lunch a little bit earlier? So brunch is like.

Jenny Hill: I mean, I don’t mind eating again, but it’s just the concept, I guess, of calling it brunch just doesn’t feel accurate for me by that point because I’ve already had a full breakfast.

Kelly Molson: Okay. So I have a similar challenge with afternoon tea. I can’t stand afternoon tea. Sorry if this upsets people. I don’t understand why you get to a certain age and all of your every thing has to be, “Oh, should we go for afternoon tea?” No, why don’t we just go to the pub like we used to? Go to the pub. Just go to the pub. What is it about afternoon tea? It’s really annoying. And it’s one of those. It’s always at like 03:00 so what is it?

Jenny Hill: It’s not a meal. It’s the same situation, but in the middle of the afternoon. I agree.

Kelly Molson: Exactly. Okay, I can get on board with your brunch thing then. If you’re on board with my afternoon tea thing. Good.

Paul Marden: I’ll take you afternoon tea and I’ll raise you a kids party at 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s neither lunch nor is it dinner. So I have to feed the child before. I have to feed the child afterwards. And then they’re going to eat more food in the middle of the day.

Kelly Molson: They are. They are. But I mean, Edie eats constantly so that it doesn’t really matter. But kid’s parties are amazing because buffet food is the best kind of food. I’m all down for a kid’s party. You get what’s it, what’s not to love? You get party rings. There’s always sausage rolls, which is like my number one top snack of all time. I’m here for the kid’s parties. I’ll just take the food. You can have all the kids. Okay. Should we talk about some serious stuff now?

Paul Marden: Yeah. Shall we do that?

Kelly Molson: I mean, it’s still equally fun, but let’s get on, shall we? We’re talking about Kids in Museums today.

Paul Marden: Which is really good, isn’t it?

Kelly Molson: It is a great topic.

Paul Marden: I feel like I’m going to learn loads about Kids in Museums that I probably should already know as I’m a trustee of Kids in Museums. But I get to ask Alison all the questions that perhaps I’ve been a little bit too scared to ask for the last year because I might look a little bit silly if I don’t know the answer.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, and she has to answer you because that is what the podcast rules are.

Paul Marden: Exactly. All right then, Alison, why don’t we kick off, tell us a little bit about Kids in Museums and how the organisation was developed.

Alison Bowyer: Kids in Museums has existed in one form or another for about 20 years now, which always astonishes me a little bit. So we started life when our founder, who at the time wrote to the Guardian, her name was Dea Birkett and she took her young child, I think she was about two years old, to the. I’m going to name and shame, I’m afraid, the Aztec’s exhibition at the Royal Academy. And her son screamed at one of the massive Aztec statues, which, if I remember the exhibition correctly, was totally fair enough, because the statues were pretty. I mean, they were designed to be scary. That’s one of the reasons why they built some of them. So they were thrown out of the Royal Academy because apparently he was disturbing the other visitors.

And then Dea wrote about this in her Guardian column, and what happened after that was the Guardian got a lot of letters coming from families telling Dee about similar experiences they’d had when they were out and about in museums with their children. And so a campaign was born to make museums better places for families, children and young people to visit. And to an extent, what happened on that day at the Royal Academy, that kind of remains our guiding principle. We are led by what visitors tell us about their experiences and we really strongly feel that museums, galleries, heritage sites, as kind of public space, should be for everyone, and everyone should be free to have that access, to feel comfortable when they’re visiting and to have a really great time during your visit. So since then, the charity has evolved in various ways.

Today, we work across the whole of the UK and we will work with any kind of museum, gallery, heritage site, historic house, castle, any kind of outdoor heritage site to support them and lead them and encourage them to take action, to better places for families, children, young people. We’re quite a small organisation. There’s only five of us in total, but we feel like we achieve a lot. And last year we won the Museum and Heritage Award for being the Best Sector Support Organisation in the UK, which was a really amazing validation of our work. That definitely doesn’t mean we’re sitting on our laurels, though. We’re always trying to spend time talking to families, talking to young people, talking to museums about how we can create new programmes, refine our existing programs to do better.

Alison Bowyer: And we really want to be approachable, supportive, trusted experts. So we are doing the best by both the audiences we represent and the museums we try to support.

Paul Marden: I think the size of the organisation. I know Vanessa, our chair, often says how much you, as a team, punch above your weight, because I don’t think anyone would imagine that it was such a small team that was having such a loud voice. Is that a positive thing? That should be a positive thing. How much impact you have with such a small team? It’s amazing.

Kelly Molson: It was lovely at the MandH Show. I was at those awards, and I saw that win happen, and it was fantastic because the cheer from the crowd was pretty phenomenal. So congratulations on that.

Alison Bowyer: Thank you. I was so sure weren’t going to win. I wasn’t there, and I’d gone to bed and gone to sleep.

Kelly Molson: Woke up to some spectacular news.

Alison Bowyer: Yeah, no, it really did. But, yeah, no, it was brilliant to get that recognition. It helps more people find out about us as well, which is always valuable.

Paul Marden: So what is it that you offer museums, and how can they get involved more with what you’re doing?

Alison Bowyer: So we like to think that we’ve got something for pretty much any kind of museum, whatever your level of expertise in working with families, children and young people is whatever resources you have, how many staff you have. So we have a large, free offer, which is kind of the building blocks of what we encourage museums to do, and it’s all centring on our manifesto. So our manifesto is something that we compile with children, families and young people. So every two years, which actually is something we’re going to be doing this year, we will be out talking to museum visitors, doing a national survey, and finding out about what their good and bad experiences of museums are. And then we will take all that information and distil it down into six easy points that make up our manifesto.

And then that’s a document that we think pretty much every museum should be able to commit to in their work. None of it is particularly complicated, or a lot of it doesn’t need to be resource intensive. They’re all pretty simple things that everybody should be able to do. So that’s a really good starting point. And over a thousand museums have signed up to the manifesto and hopefully are using it in their work. I know we’ll hear later from Jenny about how Craven Museum did that. Once you’ve signed the manifesto, there are lots of other things that you can get involved in.

We’ve got over 100 free resources on our website, which cover everything from ways to implement the manifesto at low cost, how to create self guided resources for families, right up to things like how you can engage children and young people with the climate emergency in your museum. So they cover a really wide range of things that we think are helpful to the teams in museums who are doing that work on the ground. We have a programme of UK training, so we run about trend training sessions a year for museum staff and we also work with museum development organisations on training and that’s available to attend in person for a small ticket price or to buy us recordings.

Then every year we run a program called Takeover Day, which is a really brilliant, fun, exciting initiative where children and young people age between 0 and 25 go into museums and they do adults jobs for the day. When I say 0 to 25, I really mean that. We have toddlers doing museum Takeover Days, being given tasks like polishing glass museum cases with soft dusters, doing some cleaning and doing some object packing with, like, wooden blocks. They don’t let them use loose on the actual collection.

Paul Marden: With white gloves on. 

Kelly Molson: I’m laughing because Edie would be like up there licking the glass, not trying to clean it, thinking about my daughter. And Paul is smiling because he did one of these Takeover Days. 

Alison Bowyer: He did. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: He’s got a massive grin on his face.

Paul Marden: We loved it. We got to be curators for the day. The kids got to run around the museum and then they went back into the learning suite of the Mary Rose Trust and they got told to design an immersive exhibition and they took ideas from all around the museum and designed out what they would do and such brilliant ideas that they had. It was such a great experience for them to get that kind of behind the scenes experience of what the museum is actually like.

Alison Bowyer: So we see from Takeover Day that impact Paul has described. More than 70% of the young people who take part say that they would like to go back to a museum again as a result of being part of Takeover Day. And more than two thirds of the museums say that they now know more about what young people want from their museums and will make a change. So it’s a really brilliant initiative. Then we obviously have the Family Friendly Museum Award, which is what we’re going to be talking about with Jenny and I’ll talk more about it later. And we’ve got some new programs coming online this year. So for the first time, we’re working with a group of museums to help them appoint their first young trustees. So they’re going to have people on their boards by the end of the programme age between 18 and 25. 

Alison Bowyer: And we also are running some programs with our own youth panel that they’ve designed. So we are working with them on a project which will hopefully show that museums can help address social isolation that young people experience when they move for education or new jobs.

Kelly Molson: I think it’s just take a pause there and just reiterate that there are five of you in the Kids in Museum’s team. That is a pretty phenomenal menu of things that you offer to museums with just five people.

Paul Marden: It’s amazing, isn’t it?

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Let’s just keep that up there as we’re talking today. Thanks, Alison. Jenny, I want to come over and chat to you about Kids in Museums. How did you first kind of find out about them and get involved with what they’re doing?

Jenny Hill: So, I’ve been aware of Kids in Museums probably since I first started working in the sector around six, seven years ago now. I’ve been on their website, sort of seen their name come up and use some of their guidance when I was doing some of my initial sort of museum work. But I think they sort of really stood out to me. From about 2021, I got involved with some training with part of Museum Development Yorkshire, whose sector support as well, funded by Arts Council England, and they were running front of house cohort that I got involved with at the time. And we had a really great training session as part of that cohort with Laura Bedford from Kids in Museums. She gave a really inspiring talk and session on creating family friendly interactions in museums, and that was really inspiring.

I learned a lot during that session and really made me think, oh, we definitely need to be involved with this more. And then later on in the same year, I actually did an in person event. It was at the auction museum, and actually got to have a chat with Laura there about Kids in Museum’s work. So that was really helpful. So, yeah, we kind of taken it from there. We signed up to the kids and museum manifesto following on from that, started to use those sort of principles in a lot of our front of house work and then behind the scenes as well. So, yes, Kim, have been on my radar for quite a while.

But, yeah, it’s sort of the past three years, really, that we’ve really sort of been taking on board a lot of their, using a lot of their resources and their ideas.

Kelly Molson: It’s lovely to see that it was indirectly as well. So obviously, Kids in Museums and what they do, it’s good that they work in partnership with other organizations as well. So there was like a crossover there. Why did you enter the Family Friendly Museum award last year?

Jenny Hill: So Craven Museum went through a National Lottery funded redevelopment project between 2018 and 2021. So we completely redesigned our museum space. It used to be really inaccessible. It used to be at the top of Skipton town hall. There was no lifts up there. It was a really steep, horrible flight of stairs to get up there, and a lot of the interpretation was really outdated. A lot of it was not very accessible. So after our redevelopment project, which really put access at the centre of all of our work, and particularly looking at family audiences, this is a group that we really wanted to feel welcome to our museum. It’s a group that we’d been working with a lot pre redevelopment and we really wanted to expand our work with this audience after we reopened.

So after all this work was completed, we spent 2022 in sort of that post Covid year, finding our feet when maybe our visitors weren’t quite as confident coming onto site and people were still getting to know that were reopened as well. So we had got a lot of people coming in going, “Oh, I didn’t realise the work had finished.”

That was sort of our sort of pilot year. Whereas last year in 2023, we really felt that we hit our stride and we’ve been piloting lots of new ideas in 2022 and embedding our family friendly ethos in our work. So it kind of was the year that work really felt like it came to fruition after having spent quite a few years developing it. So we thought, as a team, that we’d really like to sort of get this work hopefully recognised. And a family friendly museum award really felt like a way to do that and we really wanted it to sort of give a boost to our team as well, who’d been working hard on that. So, yeah, we just thought it would be a great year to get involved and we entered it with very low expectations.

We thought, we’re a small museum in the north of England. We weren’t sure if we’d be, I don’t know, sort of recognised for what we’ve been doing. So it was absolutely amazing to get recognition through the award in that way. It’s fantastic.

Kelly Molson: It feels like the recognition was for the team and for the people that were kind of working in it. Is that what was important to you about entering?

Jenny Hill: I think so, yes. It was to prove to the team that the work that they’d been doing was really valid and really important. And I think in the museum sector, sometimes there’s quite a lot of pressure on quite small teams. Like Alison was saying, there’s only five people in Kids in Museums, and we’re a small team, too. So I think having that recognition for the team just really helps them to know that, yes, they’re doing a good job alongside the fact that it’s obviously important to us to sort of share with the families that do come and use the museum, that it’s going well.

Kelly Molson: How difficult was it to write the entry? Because I think that there’s often a barrier. I mean, certainly for us, there’s been things that I’ve thought this would be great to enter, but I look at it and think, “Oh, my goodness, this is going to take me, like, four or five days to actually pull all of these things together and write it. And write it in a way that’s appealing.” Did you find it was an easy process to go through?

Jenny Hill: Actually, yes, we did find it, because I’ve done some applications that, yes, like you say, it can be quite as difficult, quite time consuming. I actually found the process for Kim really easy. So when the applications opened, members of the public were asked to nominate their favourite museum through a form on the Kim website. And we’re really excited that we got some lovely nominations from families. And then kids and museum got in touch to let us know that we could make full application because we’d been nominated. So after that point, there was an online form that we could fill out that asked questions like, how have you made visiting your museum accessible to families, children and young people with additional needs? So that was one of the sort of longer questions on the form because we applied for the best accessible museum.

And that was. Yeah, I think because of all the work that we’ve been doing and because that kind of ethos is embedded in our team, weren’t talking maybe about a specific project that we’d been working on. As some applications, I feel like they’re very sort of project focused, but having such a wide question like that meant that we could just talk about what we do every day at the museum, which is what’s really important to us. 

So, yeah, there were nice questions to answer because they kind of felt like they gave us the space to talk about all of our work. So that was brilliant. And we also had the opportunity to upload some supporting materials so we could get some photos in there, send through some of our more visual. Yeah, I think we might have sent a video as well. So that was great, too, because it meant we could share lots of different aspects of our work.

Kelly Molson: I love that. And spoiler alert even. You won. You’re not only be the overall winner, you were the Best Accessible Museum winner as well.

Jenny Hill: Yes. And I was still absolutely blown away by that.

Kelly Molson: It’s phenomenal. Congratulations.

Jenny Hill: Thank you.

Kelly Molson: Huge for that.

Paul Marden: I wonder if the reason why you found it not too painful to do the application is because this is folded into you. This is running through your core. You’re just telling people what you do every day, and so you’re just telling the story of what you do all the time.

Jenny Hill: I think that’s how it feel. Yeah.

Paul Marden: Alison, let’s talk about. I remember sitting in the audience listening to you talking about all the different museums and what the judges said and what stood out, and I loved hearing those stories. So what was it, do you think, that stood out about the Craven Museum, about their entry for you?

Alison Bowyer: So there were a few things about the Craven entry that really grabbed us. The first that I remember reading was that they had built our manifesto into their visitor charter, which is amazing because they are taking what we know, families, children, young people need and want, and they’re building it into that work that they do every day. Like Jenny was saying, this is them living that way of working, which is incredible. And I think throughout the application, you got a real sense that all of their staff really cared about this. There was a page in the supporting document with the whole team on it saying just, like, one little thing about everyone in the team. And it was really amazing to see that because you felt that where in some museums, this is kind of just what the people in the learning team do.

That wasn’t true at Craven. Everyone at Craven really cared about the families he visited, and I think that was really borne out in the family nominations we received. There were so many families who were telling us how much they loved going to the museum that their children saw it as, like, the highlight of their half term holiday. And they talked for weeks in advance about wanting to go, and the make and take craft seemed to be a particular hit. There were lots of families telling us that their children couldn’t wait to go back and do that again. And the families who nominated the museum also, they sounded really proud that their town had the museum, which was really lovely. And also, I think, something that came through, which is a kind of sad reflection of the way the world is at the moment.

They really appreciated that all of that was available for free. When they’re struggling to find things for their family to do that don’t cost much, it felt like it was a really important thing to have that amazing resource in their town. And there were other little things, too. The museum is a safe space. The staff have amazing access training and training in inclusive language, and those things really help with kind of broadening out who can come into the museum and something that we spend quite a lot of time talking about. That isn’t always something museums pick up on. And the Craven Museum website is just amazing, incredibly informative. I think it came in like the top five or something in the state.

Alison Bowyer: The museum access website report in the whole of the UK for its access information, which a museum of its size is absolutely incredible. We spent so much time telling people that families like to plan, they like to look at a website in advance and find out about all the facilities, and Craven had actually done that and it really makes a difference. So we were really pleased to see that. And then I think the final thing was the community case and how they had a space in the museum where local people, local organisations, could show things that were important to them. So they were really giving the local community the opportunity to see themselves in the museum and feel a sense of kind of belonging and ownership.

So I think all of those things came together and it was really clear that Craven Museum was going to be a really strong contender, which was why they shortlisted them. And then it was over to the families to judge them during the second stage of the award.

Paul Marden: I’d say the fact that you gather together these real families to kind of go and look at the museums that have applied and pass on their feedback to the judges, I think is hugely powerful. Are there any little snippets that the families came back that you liked because there were so many lovely little comments that the families had given to us throughout the awards?

Alison Bowyer: Yeah. So I think this quote is one that I think sort of sums it all up, really. The family judge said, “This is one of the most accessible, family friendly and welcoming museums I have ever visited across Britain. Although small compared to city museums, this has a lot to offer and is well laid out. It is very inclusive and their website is a particular strong point in terms of helping people to feel able and welcome to visit. People can visit the museum or attend an event knowing what to expect and what options are available. We especially love the fact that the spot the mouse activity involved actual exhibits. Often this type of activity utilizes soft toys or pictures that have been placed around the site and end up being a distraction from the collection, meaning families don’t get to actually experience the museum and look at the artefacts on display. But this activity in Craving Museum involved looking for things that were part of the carvings and objects. A great way for visitors to get more close to the collection. We all really enjoyed our visit.”

Kelly Molson: That’s so nice.

Paul Marden: That’s just brilliant feedback, isn’t it?

Alison Bowyer: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So nice.

Paul Marden: And who would have thought having a website that told you information about the museum that was accessible could actually be of value to people?

Alison Bowyer: I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it?

Paul Marden: I know. I wonder who could help you with that.

Kelly Molson: Yes, although, full credit, this is not one of our websites, but we definitely could help you with that. This is incredible. What lovely words. We’ve all got smiles on our faces for people that are listening to the audio of this and can’t see us. Jenny, I’d really love to know. We go back to the reason that you entered and, you know, part of that is for the team, it’s for the people that have worked really hard to make all of these amazing things happen. What has the impact been for your team since you won this award?

Jenny Hill: I think it’s just been the real boost that it’s given the whole team. Like Alison was saying, everyone on the team really cared about this, know every single member of our team, not just maybe our learning team or our forward facing team, everyone cared about it. And I think it’s just really inspired us to carry on with our work. We’re all very conscious of the fact that working with families, working with accessibility, is never a finished process. You’ve not achieved it. So it’s kind of really just. Yeah, it’s given us that extra push to think, “Oh, actually, we’re doing well in this and we really want to continue.”  We don’t want to sit on our laurels, we don’t want to take this for granted. We want to keep working on this. So I think that was really great.

It was also particularly lovely just to know that it was real families who’d nominated us and that, like were just saying with the undercover judges, it was real families who came to visit us during that judging period and had these positive experiences. So that was just fantastic to know that it was visitors who wanted to sort of recognise the work we’ve been doing. So, yeah, I think that’s been the main thing, really. It’s just been amazing being recognised by the sector and our colleagues and given us all that kind of. That boost. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Like a validation of all of the work that gone into it. 

Jenny Hill: Definitely.

Kelly Molson: And what about the impact from kind of general public? Has it had an impact on the visitors that are coming and what they’re saying about it and then also the sector itself, you said it’s been a good thing to be recognised within the sector.

Jenny Hill: So it’s definitely had a real impact with our visitors. So we’ve had some visitors coming to site who’ve said that they’ve specifically come because they heard about the Kids in  Museum award, which has been amazing. Some people coming from a distance to visit family in the area and saying, “Oh, when I was looking for things to do, I saw that you’d won the award. So I thought while I was visiting I’d pop in.” So that’s been incredible, that impact with visitors and our sort of more regular local visitors who’ve come in, we’ve got the award up on a shelf behind the front desk. Our front of house team are so proud to have it there behind them while they’re working.

And we’ve had local visitors saying, “Oh, it’s so amazing that our town’s got a museum that’s won this award and it’s really lovely for local people that we’ve got this here.” So, yeah, that’s been really nice for both bringing in new visitors and also for our local audience and then within the sector, it’s just been so good for us, publicity wise, to sort of kind of get our name out there, really. So since the awards I’ve done, I was just counting up the other day, I’ve had seven different institutions in touch, asking for site visits to come and look at our work, have a chat with us about best practice. I’ve delivered another seven presentations either already or got them booked in for the rest of the year. And then obviously doing podcasts like this.

And then we did a blog post as well for Send in Museum with Sam Bowen. I think that’s the pipeline, hopefully. So, yeah, it’s really kind of boosted us and we even noticed on social media, new institutions following us that maybe weren’t aware of us before, after the award, people taking interest. So that’s been really nice as a small local museum to have that kind of more bigger awareness from the sector.

Kelly Molson: I love this so much. And this goes back to something that comes up time and time again on these podcast interviews is just how collaborative and how supportive the sector is and how much they want to work with each other. It’s so lovely that you can now showcase the processes that you’ve been through and how you approach accessibility and be able to share that with others so that they can go on and do the same and make theirs better and better. 

Kelly Molson: I think it’s so important to be able to do that, and it makes me love this sector so much. It really does. What top tips Jenny, would you give to any museums that are out there thinking, “We really want to enter the awards this year.” What would you say were your best top tips for them?

Jenny Hill: This kind of links to something Paul was saying earlier, and it maybe sounds a bit cliched, but just be yourself. I think there’s so much amazing work going on in the sector to do with making venues family friendly. And if you’re passionate about what you do and you’re working hard to make your venue inclusive, then that will shine through. So maybe sometimes not to overcomplicate it. So if you’re doing the work and you really care, then that will make itself apparent. But I guess on a more practical level as well. Give yourself time with the application, don’t try and rush it. We work very collaboratively at Craven Museum, so we really wanted the opportunity for all of our staff to be able to feed back into the application process and for lots of different people to read the draft, make comments, have their say.

So by giving ourselves enough time to do that, it really made the process a lot smoother. And also, have a look at the Kids in Museum Manifesto. It’s a great place to just, if you haven’t signed up already, sign up and if you have, just refresh yourself on it, because it can really help that framework for how to answer questions and things.

Kelly Molson: Great tips. Thanks, Jenny.

Paul Marden: So with that in mind, should we talk about this year’s family friendly awards. Nominations Open on 19th March, I think. Is that right, Alison?

Alison Bowyer: Yeah, that’s right.

Paul Marden: So what is it that museums can do to enter?

Alison Bowyer: This year we have five categories, so there are three size categories, so best, small, medium and large museums, which will be organised by number of visits in the previous twelve months. That’s all explained on our website. I won’t go into that now. Then we have a category for the Best Successful Museum, which is the category that Craven won last year. And then our new category for this year is Best Youth Project, and that is a prize for museums who are doing long term, so work longer than six months with young people from the ages of 14 to 25. And what we’re really looking for is work, that young people are given a sort of equal share in decision making, that they’re really involved in shaping work.

And the guidelines for that category, along with all of the others, are in the guidance notes, which you can download from our website. So that would be the first thing to do. Sounds very obvious, read the guidance notes carefully because that should explain most of what you need to know about how to enter. So then there are two routes to entry, really. So what Jenny described, what happened to Craven, that’s what happens to most museums. Families will nominate them. So for a family to nominate, they can just go on our website. It’s really simple. They just have to tell us the name with the museum they’re nominating and in a few sentences why they’re nominating them. That’s it. And then we will contact the museum and tell them they’ve been nominated and ask them to fill in the museum side of the application process.

We’ve got lots of tools to help museums promote nominations to families. So we’ve got social media assets for all channels and we’ve got some paper forms you can print out and put in your museum if you want to. Then the other alternative is if you want to enter but you for some reason don’t have the time or the capacity to collect lots of family nominations, you can just enter as a museum on our website. That’s totally fine. You just go on our website and you look at the museum application form. It’s not essential to have a family nomination for the small museum and large category, but for the Best Successful Museum, we do ask that at least one family has supported your museum’s nomination. Just because we feel for that category, it’s super important that the museums are sort of supported by families for the provision that they offer in terms of accessibility. 

Alison Bowyer: What happens then is once we’ve got all the nominations together, we put together a shortlist. So the shortlisting panel is made up of. We normally have primary schools, young people from our youth panel, our staff and trustees, and sometimes representatives from museums who’ve won in the past. We all come together, we pick a shortlist and then we announce that in June. And then if you’ve been shortlisted over the summer, we will send out families like mystery shopper judges to your museum. So you won’t know they’re coming, they will just go on a visit and they will report back to us afterwards. And as Jenny says, it’s their scores that choose the winners.

We don’t intervene in any way. We go with whatever the families tell us, so they really are in control. And I think that’s one of the lovely things about this award. It is genuinely an award that is given by people who visit museums and then we will announce all the results in October at our award ceremony.

Paul Marden: We’ve talked a little bit about the mystery shoppers, the family judges, the undercover judges going in and actually looking at the museums. And that’s how I first found out about Kids in Museums because I saw a sign when I was in the London Transport Museum suggesting that people could go on to nominate and also apply to be an undercover judge, which was how I found out about you first. This is a few years ago now. What can families do, though, if they want to be an undercover judge? Can they get involved?

Kelly Molson: Oh, yeah.

Alison Bowyer: Absolutely. So the best thing to do is to sign up on our website to our family mailing list. And then when we recruit the judges, which will be from June onwards, we will get in touch with you and let you know whereabouts in the UK. We need judges. It changes every year because we need the judges to be the museums on the shortlist. So it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing that we can’t really start until we know where those museums are. But, yeah, the best thing to do is to sign up for our family mailing list.

Paul Marden: Yeah. It’s such a great opportunity, isn’t it, for people to go and have a mission, for the kids to go in and have a mission to go and check these places out and be the ones that decide who gets the award. What a great opportunity for a family to go and find that out.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Don’t tell them until they get home, though, because they’ll just be shouting that out in the museum.

Paul Marden: Do you know who I am?

Alison Bowyer: We get lots of families tell us that their kids really enjoy it because they tell them they’re, like, having to play detective or something and not be seen. And apparently it makes the day out really fun. So, yeah, it comes recommended.

Paul Marden: So there’s a call to action for all the families that might be listening to us to join the mailing list and get in there early to become an undercover judge.

Alison Bowyer: Yeah. And I should say that we will cover travel expenses for the family judges, up to 30 pounds a visit. So we try to make it as accessible as possible to be a judge.

Paul Marden: Completely brilliant opportunity.

Kelly Molson: Thank you both for coming on and sharing this with us today. It’s been so lovely to hear about it. We are going to put all of the details on how you can enter and how you can sign up to be a family judge as well on the show notes, but essentially go to Kids in Museum’s website because they have everything that you need on there. We always ask our guests to leave us with a book recommendation. Something they love or know can be anything, a personal recommendation, a business book. Whatever you like. Jenny, what have you prepared for us today?

Jenny Hill: Well, it’s probably not one that people haven’t heard of before, but I’m a massive Jane Austen fan, so I would always recommend Emma. Emma is probably my favourite by her. Yeah, it’s one of those ones that I always go back to. So, yeah, if you’re thinking about you’ve never read Jane Austen before, you want to read some classics? I would always recommend that. Yeah, it’s a lovely book.

Kelly Molson: Oh, it’s nice. We get so many people come on and recommend their favourite. Something magic about rereading the book over and over again is that you always find out something different every time you read it, regardless of how many times you’ve read it before. Thank you. Alison, what about you?

Alison Bowyer: Gosh, I found it so hard to pick a favourite book. People who aren’t watching won’t be able to see the bookcase behind me.

Kelly Molson: Very full.

Paul Marden: Alison looks like a reader for the people that are listening.

Alison Bowyer: It’s not probably necessarily my favourite book, but a book that I really love by an author who I think deserves to best known in the UK is Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiney. She is absolutely hilarious and it’s just a really beautiful portrait of a family living in New York who are all slightly eccentric and unusual in different ways. And I guess I’m really curious and lazy about people’s lives. So I love books that kind of open the window onto different kinds of families. And yeah, she’s just a wonderful author. All her books are wonderful, but that’s my absolute favourite.

Kelly Molson: Good recommendation. Thank you. And both of those books have never been recommended before as well, so they will go top of the list on our blog post that we have where we save off all of our guests recommendations. As ever, if you want to win these books, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words I want Alison and Jenny’s books, then you’ll be in with a chance of winning a copy yourselves. Once again, thank you both for coming on. It’s been so lovely to hear about the awards and the impact of winning the awards. Congratulations again on all of your hard work. It’s just been wonderful to talk to you. So thank you.

Jenny Hill: Thank you very much. It’s been lovely speaking to you today.

Alison Bowyer: Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure to share the award and some of the other work we do.

Paul Marden: And it’s got us smiling all the way through, hasn’t it, Kelly? It’s been a lovely story to tell.

Kelly Molson: I hope people can hear that in our voices, that we’re smiling. They can hear that we’re smiling if they don’t watch them, nobody watches our videos. Hey, go and watch our videos.

Paul Marden: There you go. See us grinning all the way through smiling.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.


Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

Give your customers a better online experience with our newsletter

Receive free advice that will enable you to create better online experiences for your users and guests.