Accessibility at Barnsley Museums part two

A lot has changed in the world and at Barnsley Museums since our first blog about accessibility in 2020….


In a blog which we shared in November 2020 we said “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” although our access and inclusion vision

remains the same we have implemented lots of changes at our venues and online. Here are just a few of the things the Barnsley Museums team have recently implemented

Visit England access guides and visual stories

We have created Visit England Accessibility guides for four of our five sites: Experience Barnsley, Cooper Gallery, Worsbrough Mill and Cannon Hall. These follow a set template for disabled visitors to find out more about the accessibility of our sites and plan their visit to us in advance.

The visual stories specially created during the pandemic have been updated to reflect restrictions lifting post-Covid and to incorporate new additions to our sites. You can watch all these stories here:

click ‘Watch on YouTube to view the full playlist

Audio description

In our last blog, we told you about an exciting project we had in the pipeline with VocalEyes, a charity for blind and partially sighted people, to make our collections more accessible online. VocalEyes delivered two training sessions for a cross-section of Barnsley Museums staff on online/website accessibility and writing audio descriptions. Once our team were trained up, we had a go at writing our own descriptions, initially based on the 100 greatest objects in our collections. These were then checked over by experts from VocalEyes and we were able to make their recommended edits and record the finished descriptions ourselves, to be added to a new page on our website. Since then, VocalEyes have worked with us as critical friends, supporting us with editing our audio descriptions to make sure we continue to follow best practice. We are now aiming to ensure that each new exhibition includes at least one audio described object and are selecting a good variety of collection items across our sites to appeal to all interests. We are also adding QR codes to the objects in our museums to make sure visitors can listen to them onsite as well as online. You can have a listen to our descriptions on our website – https://www.barnsley-museums.com/accessibility/audio-description which we will be adding to regularly!

Makaton Mondays

Following on from our Makaton training during lockdown, another new initiative we’ve trialled in the last year is ‘Makaton Mondays’ – a regular series of videos using Makaton to engage new audiences with our collections. Initially we only signed the opening and closing of each video but following feedback from our audiences we now sign the whole way through, picking a different object each month to focus on. These often link with a wider national event such as Valentine’s Day or the Queen’s Jubilee! We’ve really enjoyed learning new signs and finding out more about our collections. Videos are posted monthly on our social media channels, and they can all be found here on our website – https://www.barnsley-museums.com/accessibility/makaton-mondays

Virtual Tours

We first started offering 360° tours of our venues and exhibitions during the pandemic and it’s something that we are continuing to offer. Through upskilling of staff we now make these in house, and it’s our aim to make every major exhibition accessible in this way.

A screenshot of a virtual, one of the paintings has an expanded view
Take a virtual tour via Matterport https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=VEokGLWKALr

Our latest exhibition tour is When Spencer Met Stanhope: Family Portraits at Cannon Hall Museum. Within the tour visitors can read all the text panels that are on display in the physical exhibition and also listen to an audio guide. We are planning additional content including blogs and videos. In June as part of Museum Week we are going to share a fully interactive tour of The Cooper Gallery

Relaxed openings

As our museum sites have re-opened, we have re-introduced our relaxed openings, first piloted in 2019. These are full day quiet openings at our town centre sites (Experience Barnsley Museum and the Cooper Gallery), where audio is turned down or off and no large events or groups are booked in to ensure a quiet experience in the museum. We are running these monthly and on different days of the week to ensure as many people as possible can attend. We ensure they coincide with school holidays and also with our SENsational workshops for families with PMLD and ASD.

SENsational workshops

SENsational is a multisensory experience for PMLD children and their families to experience the Museum in a relaxed way. Sessions take place in the in the Learning Lab at Experience Barnsley where our experienced facilitators transform the space into a sensory environment with open ended play. This half term will be the third session we have run and have already seen repeat visits from families who enjoy chatting and getting to know other parents and carers.

“This is our second session and my daughter loves all the sensory toys. The staff are really friendly and informal. The equipment is really lovely, ideal for ***** as she is autistic and loves the little light up toys, the liquid tiles and the little egg chair/den. The fact that it is free is a bonus as there aren’t many things like this in Barnsley especially for SEND children. Thank you!”

“Really enjoyed this morning’s session. Our son has very complex needs and he loved the sensory items available for him to play with. Being able to interact with his peers is always a good experience for him from a parents point of view, it is nice to have other parents to chat with that understand”

For upcoming SENsational events visit our What’s on page https://www.experience-barnsley.com/whats-on

Sensory Map

A picture of the Cannon Hall sensory map

In partnership with pupils from local Greenacre School, we have developed a new map at Cannon Hall – showcasing sensory experiences around the Country Park for neurodiverse audiences to use. We’ve found this to be very popular with all our visitors! Why not download it yourself from our website and come and have a go with it onsite? https://www.cannon-hall.com/accessibility

Looking forward

A photo showing the Barnsley Memory Box museum case at Experience Barnsley
‘Barnsley’s Memory Box’ in Experience Barnsley was re-displayed in 2020

We are currently putting together a photo book of images at Experience Barnsley which will allow visitors to take a closer look at many of the objects on display in the museum. Each of the objects will be numbered and there will be a retro telephone next to the album where you dial the corresponding number to hear a short audio description of the item.

A red telephone
Soon visitors to Experience Barnsley will be able to use this 1970s telephone to learn more about objects on display in the museum

Following the success of our sensory map at Cannon Hall, we are creating an additional one for Worsbrough Mill, working with Opening Doors, a regular group of volunteers in the Country Park, to identify sensory areas in the outdoor spaces. We’ll launch this in the summer for families to enjoy during the school holidays. We’ll also be creating our final Visit England access guide for Elsecar Heritage Centre, and looking at creating sensory backpacks for each of our sites to provide activities for neurodiverse and disabled visitors to do.

Visit the Barnsley Museums website which is regularly updated with our accessible resources https://www.barnsley-museums.com/accessibility

Have you read our previous blogs?

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