New relaxed trail to launch at the British Museum as part of the Wolfson Access and Education Programme

Currently in its third phase (2022–2025), The British Museum’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Programme is receiving funding from the Wolfson Foundation to provide access to the British Museum for autistic, learning disabled, and neurodivergent people.

Photo of a group of people posing in an instiutional space

Wolfson Sensory Trail Team. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

To date, the project has introduced a range of innovatory events and accessible interventions, events and resources designed to support engagement with the Museum’s spaces and collections.

There are three strands of activities within The Wolfson Project. Strand one is a series of out of hour events produced by the Wolfson Project Programme Manager, Jess Starns in collaboration with SYNERGY , an advisory panel designated by Camden Council as an ‘Expert by Experience’ on services for learning disabled people.

Working closely with the Wolfson Project Programme Manager, and through learning about the Museum’s collection through behind-the-scenes visits, SYNERGY have identified sessions involving music performances from the likes of Multi-instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav as well as talks about musical instruments, the use of jargon in the museum and drawing events.

Forthcoming family events are due to take place on Saturday 6 April – families, Saturday 1 June – families and Saturday 10 August – families. The British Museum will then enter the final funding year and will plan another 3 family events, 2 adult events and 3 supported volunteer placements.

The second strand supporting volunteer placements has enabled an increase in pathways into volunteering by providing opportunities to develop skills and undertake a role in a supported environment. The placements support the Museum’s Hands on desks sessions, which allow visitors to handle real objects and to find out more about the collection through relaxed, informal conversations. Volunteers facilitate the object handling, encourage discussion and answer visitors’ questions.

Since January 2023, five volunteer placements have been undertaken, two on the Asia Hands on desk, two on the Enlightenment desk and one on the Ancient Europe and Roman Britain desk. To date, over 3,700 people have been supported to engage with the collection by the Wolfson volunteers.

The placements have provided volunteers with important social interaction and supported them to build skills, knowledge and confidence. Volunteers have reported that they enjoyed seeing other volunteers regularly and learning from visitors as they told stories. They also mentioned they built confidence through answering visitor questions and delivering the handling sessions, as well as learnt to be prepared, remain calm and to be assertive but polite when managing large groups. Finally, all participants reported that they enjoyed the opportunity to do something new.

Following feedback from the 2023 participants, the Wolfson Programme Manager is revising placements for Year 2 of the programme, which will support weekly volunteering sessions for a period of three months. Future placements will also include more training sessions as well as practical experience on the Hand on desks.

Strand three is a Sensory trail, which will enable independent visits to the Museum for those who are autistic, learning disabled or have mental health conditions. The trail has been developed in collaboration with Mencap Islington Me Time service and London-based supported employment programmes.

Across a variety of sessions, Mencap participants have worked on the trail with the Wolfson Programme Manager, Jess Starns and Julia Collar, a neurodivergent sensory practitioner who specialises in developing sensory activities and trails.

Julia delivered sessions that were successful in engaging the Mencap participants with the Museum’s collection and the process of designing a trail, providing new experiences and allowing the participants to develop skills and confidence. Participants and their support workers described significant positive benefits of the programme which included growing confidence and feeling calm when they are at the Museum and after they leave.

The trail is in a pilot stage where its effectiveness is being tested with audiences. The trail comprises of an audio guide, a pre-visit film and sensory bags which are ‘convertible’ bags that can be used as a backpack, shoulder bag, or brief case. They are filled with sensory objects as well as a trail map, finger torches, a magnifying glass and the British Museum sensory map.

A photo of a small group of people trying out aspects of the trail within the museum

Wolfson Sensory Trail. Photo credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

The website team are creating the web page which shall hopefully launch on Thursday 14 March when the sensory trail group, the rest of their Mencap, curators and other staff members will be invited to have a celebratory cake as well as to see the trail. The sensory trail will be up on the website and open for use, from the second week of March.

To find out more about the Wolfson Project and forthcoming events and opportunities please visit the accessible events pages and the accessibility page on the British Museum website or contact the Access Team at [email protected].

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