Learning from the past; improving the present and planning for a more diverse and inclusive future…

This month we’re celebrating Black History Month by profiling the stories of people of African and Caribbean heritage who have contributed to natural history.  

On our website, we’re telling extraordinary stories from the past such as the tale of seventeenth century Surinamese freedman,  Graman Kwasi. A healer, naturalist, and spy he described a medicinal plant to ward off fever and parasites that is still used today.  

We will also feature unique tales of  twenty-first century Black-led endeavours in natural history, including climate change researchers and curators.  Nadine Gabriel is the Museum’s assistant curator of fossil mammals, with a first-class honours in MSci Geology under her belt, Nadine is a lover of field trips, who helps look after the Museum’s 250,000 fossil mammal specimens. 

We’re also running a learning programme exploring the achievements and stories of scientists and contributors of African and Caribbean heritage to our collections, and a new Nature Live Online with Principal Curator Miranda Lowe about the hidden figures in the Natural History Museum’s historic record.   Visit nhm.ac.uk to find out more. 

Last month I interviewed lawyer and human rights champion Shami Chakrabarti for the second of our Diverse Voices staff webinars. These events offer a chance for colleagues to hear from influential change-makers outside NHM who have actively promoted Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and championed social justice. 

Shami took a range of questions from human rights to social media and I was particularly interested by what she had to say about the important societal role of museums in a time of economic and social crisis.  

And today, in our third Diverse Voices, we heard from Director of the V&A East, Gus Casely-Hayford in conversation with NHM Director-designate, Doug Gurr 

We continue to strive to make sure that everyone who works at and visits the NHM feels valued and included. That’s why we’ve made changes to our current staff survey so we can get a fuller picture including how gender and non-gender identity and socio-economic background are represented at NHM. 

The replies to the questionnaire are confidential and go directly to the external provider of the survey so no member of staff is identified personally. 

On 10 October our Director of HR Alison Lodge will be interviewing me and my Executive Board colleagues on the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day which is ‘mental health for all’. The interview will be livestreamed to colleagues. 

We’ve been updating our website to ensure it’s as accessible as possible. Among the 25 changes we’ve added an icon and accessible label to links that open in a new window, so that all users know what to expect when they click; made sure all the buttons in our navigation menu are labelled so that screen reader users can easily navigate it and ensured alternative text is present for images that need description, and removed decorative images that don’t need to be described. There’s always more to do to keep our digital experiences as accessible as possible, and we will continue to improve. For more information, please read our website accessibility statement

Also, in our determination to optimise onsite inclusion, in October, Dawnosaurs, our programme for neuro-diverse audiences, is holding its first Museum early opening event at South Kensington since lockdown. Such is the popularity of the programme, that within 36 hours of the 900 tickets going live, all were booked out.  

And finally, it is with sadness that I wish to pay tribute to one extremely special man, Pardeep Singh Rai, who very sadly recently died.  Pardeep played an important role in supporting the NHM to evaluate its best practice and innovation for partially sighted and blind audiences.  He was passionate about museums and always ready to provide positive support and a constructive critical voice to access and inclusion programmes. Most recently, his involvement in the Urban Nature Project was invaluable, and before that for the exhibition Life in the Dark. He was also always on the other end of the phone to provide informed and relevant advice to support our inclusive exhibition design process.  

Our best wishes go out to his friends and family as we recognise and celebrate the important and valuable contribution Pardeep so generously and joyfully made to the Natural History Museum.  

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