On 14 August 2018, the Natural History Museum welcomed a group from CARAS into the Museum for a special visit. CARAS is a community outreach charity based in Tooting, Wandsworth, who work with people of all ages from a refugee and asylum-seeking background, who live in South-West London.
CARAS had visited the NHM last year, doing a selfie trail. The group of thirty included young children and older adults, some of who were visiting the museum for the first time. The visit on 14 August included a short tour, an Investigate session, and a craft activity.
Kicking off the visit, Science Educator Hanouf El-Alawi and London Partnerships Manager Joe Sullivan gave short guided tours of the galleries to the group. This included stops requested by many of the children – ‘dinosaurs and space stuff’.
Looking through the Earth Galleries, the groups could apply what the already knew about the Solar System and science, and see specimens from the collections and interactives bringing it to life for them.
Moving through to Hintze Hall, the huge skeleton of Hope the Blue Whale caught the attention of the group. They then went to see the mounted animal specimens, answering questions from their NHM guide and showing off their own knowledge – my tour had a fairly in-depth history of the dodo related by one of the young people attending! Posing for photos by the animal collections (the grizzly bear was a particular favourite), the group moved through to the Marine Animals Hall, then on to the dinosaurs, before stopping for lunch.
After lunch the group met up with Hanouf again, who had developed a special Investigate session that was tailored to the needs of the group.
CARAS works with many people who do not have English as a first language, and run courses on ESOL (English as a Second Language) among other programmes designed to help people settling into life in the UK, so it was important that we had prepared a session that the group could understand and work together in.
After Hanouf’s introduction to the session, the young people attending investigated different specimens in the room with microscopes, tape measures and scales. This gave time for us to speak to them one-on-one and with their parents, to think about how they were engaging with the specimens and what they noticed. Parents got involved too, looking at different rocks, plants or animals with their children and discussing what they were, or might be.
The group then fed back to Hanouf, who asked people to share what they have discovered and what they had learned.
There was one final activity after Investigate. The group moved to a small learning room, which was full of photos of some of the objects they had seen during their visit so far. Parents and children looked through the images together, picking out and chatting about their favourites and about facts they had learned. Some of the children made collages of their favourite things from the visit.
Many of the group had never visited the NHM (or any other museums) before. We had some great comments from participants when we asked them the best thing about the visit, including ‘I love animals and I really enjoyed being here today’, ‘I loved holding the fossils’ and ‘I loved looking at things through the magnifying glasses’. It was also wonderful to hear praise for the staff involved, with one participant saying they appreciated the ‘kindness of facilitators’.
Group activities, such as a museum visit, are hugely valuable for the members of CARAS. It puts them into real-world situations and supports them to develop their English skills, access services, resources, and opportunities, and helps to build supportive, welcoming social networks.
As a cultural stakeholder it is important that the NHM is able to support groups and networks like CARAS, who work day to day in targeted ways to improve the quality of life for London residents. We will continue the relationship with CARAS as we move forward, and look to use this visit as a model for visits by that reach out to audiences with similar needs in the future.
You can find out more about CARAS here: http://caras.org.uk/