Accessibility at Barnsley Museums

At Barnsley Museums, we believe that everyone deserves equal access to heritage and the arts, and that our spaces should be there for everyone to enjoy. Whilst recognising we have a way to go, we are committed to making positive change and improving accessibility. Ally Beckett, Formal Learning Officer and Access lead for Barnsley Museums explains more about the work we have done, both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure we are as welcoming as possible for people with a range of different needs. 

The Story So Far… 

staff sat at a desk folding and making paper aeroplanes while wearing eye masks
The Barnsley Museums team taking part in visual awareness training

Over the past eighteen months, Barnsley Museums has undertaken a comprehensive programme of training, audits and focus groups designed to gather expert advice and collect feedback from those living with disabilities. We commissioned experienced consultants to audit our venues, as well as our events, activities and marketing materials, and to produce reports and recommendations on the findings. They have also delivered bespoke training and facilitated focus groups, with the input of local disabled people, for our team. The Formal Learning Officer has undertaken Access for All UK’s four day ‘Accessibility Champion’ course, which has enabled us to deliver in house access awareness training, and increased awareness of the needs of a number of different groups. This work culminated in the creation of an access policy:

Alongside an action plan, and the introduction of new initiatives such as relaxed openings and sensory backpacks. We have created an internal focus group made up of various team members to take further ideas forward and to make sure access remains at the forefront of our work, and were in the middle of planning some exciting projects for the year ahead, such as increasing our tactile objects onsite and exploring touch and BSL tours. Then came Covid-19… 

Accessibility during a pandemic 

One of our first videos to include makaton

As it undoubtedly was for museums and heritage sites across the country, closing our venues was upsetting and demoralising (although absolutely necessary to keep people safe!). However, we decided early on in lockdown to use the time to drive proactive change and strive to make ourselves more accessible upon re-opening. We ensured that every video we produced for our digital offer has subtitles (which will continue in the future), and organised Makaton taster sessions for the whole team – which we then used in our holiday activity videos for families. 

 We also developed an exciting 3D virtual tour of Cannon Hall which enables ‘visitors’ to explore the site digitally and find out more about our exciting collections. Access the tour here:

click on the image to take a virtual tour of Cannon Hall Museum

During lockdown, our SEND volunteering programme, working with local organisation QDOS Ccreates and Opening Doors, won a prestigious Museums and Heritage Award. We have been able to work with the group in a Covid secure way, seeing the group volunteer off site but doing activity that is inspired and directly contributes to the site, such as creating bug hotels and creating trails which will be installed.

When planning for reopening, we commissioned a new audit of our sites, focussing solely on the accessibility of our new Covid-19 measures. We were very aware that safety procedures such as removing tactile objects, closing off some galleries, and creating one-way and queuing systems would have unintended consequences for various groups of people, and wanted to mitigate that as far as possible. The audit has enabled us to make some small changes, such as clearer signage and more detailed explanations of our procedures so visitors can see what we have put in place. Mask exempt lanyards are available to be picked up from our reception desks to be worn for the duration of the visit, before being cleaned and quarantined for the next user. As part of the audit, we are also setting up a focus group made up of local people with disabilities to find out what their priorities are when they are thinking of returning to our sites. 

Re-opening of Venues 

The Cooper Gallery reopened in August with the launch of our ‘Allegories of the Senses’ exhibition, co-created by Action for Autism and Asperger’s Barnsley, who selected objects they most associated with the five senses. We were able to trial a number of initiatives as part of this, such as audio guides which visitors could download and use on their own devices, the audio descriptions  were also added to RNIB PenFriends for visitors with visual impairments to use when visiting the gallery. We were the first venue in the UK to use Lego Braille bricks. We will continue to use these ideas and expand on them in future exhibitions. You can read more about Allegories of The Sense and access all the resources from it in our previous blog:

We were the first gallery in the UK to use Lego braille bricks


Sensory Stories 

Sensory stories were developed for each museum/venue at the start of lockdown, and have been adapted to include Covid-19 measures such as protective screens, hand sanitiser and masks. You can watch all these stories here: 

Cannon Hall sensory story
The Cooper Gallery sensory story
The Elsecar Heritage Centre sensory story
Worsbrough Mill Museum & Country Park sensory story

Looking forward 

Of course, this is just the start of our access ‘journey’. Museums, along with society as a whole, have a lot more work to do when it comes to removing preventable barriers for people with different needs. We’ll be working with visual awareness organisation VocalEyes on an audio description project and looking at additional audio guides and virtual tours. We are always looking for ways to improve our accessibility, if you have any suggestions please email

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