Maintaining Momentum on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion | Executive Director of Engagement

by Clare Matterson, Executive Director of Engagement

It is wonderful to have the Museum open again and to welcome visitors back to our galleries and gardens. Reopening has enabled us to reinstate and extend our provision for neuro-diverse audiences and better serve our local communities. At the same time, work has also continued apace behind the scenes to make our Museum and workforce as inclusive as possible.

Supporting neuro-diverse audiences, including those with dementia

We know that neuro-diverse audiences have been profoundly impacted by  lockdown and isolation throughout the pandemic so I’m thrilled that we have finally been able to offer our dedicated Dawnosaurs events once again onsite in South Kensington through the support of the Edith Murphy Foundation and their recent generous donation.

Dawnosaurs is a free event for children with neurodiverse conditions (including autism and other sensory processing difficulties) to enjoy the Museum with their families, free from the hustle and bustle of the general public. Participants have access to a wide range of galleries and creative and science focussed activities, supported by experienced, autism-aware facilitators.

Attended by over 420 neuro-diverse children, young people and their families, our first post lockdown event took place earlier this month – future events can be booked here and information about relaxed access viewings for our current exhibition Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature will soon be available online.

These in-person events form part of our growing Dawnosaurs offer which includes our popular online events and activities, developed last year to ensure we could continue to support families during the social isolation of lockdown. We also developed Dawnosaurs-in-a-Box – an activity resource which has been distributed via food banks and partner organisations to ensure we are reaching families who may not find an online or onsite resource inclusive or accessible.

two young children, one dresssed as a dinosaur, in the Museum's central hall
Our Dawnosaurs series of relaxed morning events are once more available to book

In May, we also signed up to and attended the Mayoral launch of the Dementia Friendly Venues Charter – an initiative designed to provide better resources across the cultural sector for this often-under-resourced audience. Joining forces with other cultural public venues we have committed to do more for visitors with dementia and their accompanying carers .

The Urban Nature Project: Understanding Barriers to Nature

Our ambitious Urban Nature Project (UNP), which is aiming to create a movement of urban nature biodiversity champions and is particularly focussed on helping us reach disadvantaged young people, was boosted by a £3.2m grant from the National Heritage Lottery Heritage Fund  – and a fantastic visit from our Patron, Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge last month.

We believe everyone can play a part in giving nature a helping hand and through the UNP we will be working to give people across the UK, no matter who they are or where they live, the motivation and tools to safeguard the nature in towns and cities so that people and planet can thrive. However, we know not everyone has access or connection to nature so over the past year, we have conducted thorough research to understand barriers to engagement with nature.

We have listened to 4,400 people with a low connection to nature, such as families, teachers, Prince’s Trust youth workers and young people. All participants were coming from one or more of the following groups; ethnically diverse, from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and with little access to green spaces.  Understanding the needs and interests of these audiences is enabling us to create relevant and memorable experiences that help people connect with nature.   

It’s vital we engage young people with the nature on their doorstep, the first step we have taken through the Urban Nature Project is to set up a pilot Youth Advisory Panel. We have benefited from hearing the perspectives and experiences of twelve young people from diverse backgrounds who helped us identify some of the problems with access to nature. In turn, Museum staff helped generate opportunities for them to share their ideas with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea councillors – and in a separate meeting, with the Deputy London Mayor for Environment and Energy. I have it on good authority that all these policymakers were hugely impressed by the insights these young people provided.

Two further Youth Advisory Panels are planned for the next phase of the Urban Nature Project

To wrap up their time on the panel, the group took over the Museum’s social media channels for a day and several of the panellists have also had starring roles in the media with Yogi Nagam appearing on a recent episode of Countryfile to discuss barriers to engagement with nature and Yetunde Kehinde on BBC Radio London. We will be developing two more Youth Advisory Panels into the project as it progresses to ensure we hear from young people up down the country. 

Engaging with local communities

We are constantly striving to be a better neighbour to those local to us, yet underserved and underrepresented by the Museum sector, and have begun exploring how we can engage with families and young people living on local estates and social housing through a number of Covid-19-safe science stations and observation tables, meeting residents and beginning to tackle some of the barriers these communities may face in engaging with us. Last month, with our doors open once again, we welcomed dozens of families from local community organisations for our first Community Opening of 2021.

Over the last year, we have developed partnerships with local community organisations and worked with them to provide opportunities and support for their audiences throughout the last year, running online sessions, and sending out activity resources to local families including 500 PDF resources to foodbanks, 500 wellbeing walk activity trials to community hubs and 200 nature engagement activity packs to local families.

These partnerships with groups such as Mama D (Community Centred Knowledge) have also shaped our Urban Nature Project Garden design as we co-created a self-guided trail with families who live locally. This trail, which was tested by Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, is focused on Ananse, a well-known character from West African and Caribbean folklore, as he weaves his way around the wisdom of the world through the stories of the trees in the Wildlife Garden.  

LGBTQ+ Natural History Tour

I’m delighted to introduce the Museum’s first ever self-guided LGBTQ+ natural history tour – now available on our website and YouTube channel. The tour allows viewers to pick their own route to discover more about some of the lesser-known and often overlooked LGBTQ+ stories related to many of the specimens found in the Museum’s collections.

The main tour is guided by our Digital News Editor, Josh Davis as he takes the viewer around Hintze hall, but at various points you can choose to go behind the scenes to meet our scientists and see bonus specimens. Alternatively, you can choose to watch Josh’s tour in its entirety. The choice is yours!

Supporting our workforce

Supporting our workforce to become ever more inclusive has been a priority for our HR team who have launched a new management development programme which has a focus on creating an inclusive culture. We are giving staff on the tools and information they need so we can all promote and support Diversity and Inclusion and recognise and address racism in the workplace.

We have developed a three-year plan to help us attract job applications from a broader field including people to the Museum who may never have considered a career with us. For example, we are supporting the Government’s Kickstart programme, hosting 15 six-month placements for out-of-work young people aged 16-24 to gain work experience in the Museum. The placements will be across all areas of the organisation including Science, Engagement, Learning and Corporate services. The first four young people joined us last week and we’ll be supporting the scheme to the end of until May 2022.

We are also doing more to help our staff develop their careers. We have greater diversity amongst the staff who work in entry level positions, and we want to help move people up in the museum, so we are committed to advertising internally where possible, and I’m pleased to say nearly half our roles in the last three months have gone to internal candidates.  

Diversity Champions

It was a privilege for the Museum to host award-winning science journalist and broadcaster Angela Saini and Group Director of Diversity and Inclusion at ITV, Ade Rawcliffe, to our roster of eminent speakers for our Diverse Voices: In Conversation webinar series. This series invites diverse change-makers to speak to staff about critical questions around equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights. Later in the year we look forward to hearing from Tom Shakespeare, social scientist, bioethicist and an academic who writes, talks and researches mainly about disability.

To end, I would like to congratulate the Museum’s Miranda Lowe, Principal Curator, Crustacea who was one of the winners of The Society for the History of Natural History President’s Award – recognising initiatives that promote greater inclusivity and diversity. Alongside co-author Subhadra Das, Miranda was recognised for their research on how natural history collections are often connected to slavery and how this history should be addressed.

Miranda’s work is recognised globally across the sector for changing the cultural sector’s views and good practice in the field of equality, diversity and inclusion, so it is brilliant again to see her considerable accomplishments and their subsequent impact being recognised by the wider sector.