Museum stories: How the Roald Dahl Museum are keeping kids engaged with learning


We hope you’ve been enjoying hearing from some of the museums who’ve benefited from your support so far.

This week we discover how a little museum in Great Missenden are working to provide a valuable learning resource for schools across the UK. Thanks to funding from Art Fund, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre are taking their amazing archive online, with the potential to reach thousands of children nationally.

The museum’s director, Steve Gardam, tells us more about the project, as well as the challenges they’ve been facing over the past year.

By donating to #TogetherForMuseums, you’re helping many more museums and galleries across the UK make projects like these a reality. Thank you.

‘Not all museums are big Victorian vaulted cathedrals. I think that’s a really key message I always want to get across to people. We don’t have a lot of elbow room; it’s one of the charms of the Roald Dahl Museum. Pre-Covid, the visitor experience was a cosy, communal, bustling kind of place, very hands-on, very interactive. So much of the gallery content is something that you do rather than merely look at, whether that’s crafts, dressing up, or communal storytelling sessions.

When it became possible to reopen in the summer of 2020, we realised that the only realistic way we could do it in a Covid-secure way and provide a great visitor experience was through what we call guided visits. We have great people – the best kind of interactivity – and it was incredibly popular.

Here’s the kicker: [being Covid-secure] absolutely shreds our capacity. We’re an independent museum charity; we need to earn money in order to operate. Most weeks we were open, we were sold out but only earning maybe 15% of what we would have earned pre-Covid. We did it because it was important for us to be open – we’re here to share the positive legacy of Roald Dahl’s work with as many people as we can.

The other thing, of course, is that we had no schools income whatsoever. We have an incredibly successful schools programme; we were seeing nearly 12,000 kids every year. Schools really like the content because it’s about creativity, craft, Dahl’s creative process as an example that you can learn from about how to create characters, how to edit, how to think of plots, and so on.’

‘With the world turning to Zoom and other video platforms like never before, we could see something had happened that made taking our learning provision online possible for the first time. We got a small grant that allowed us to buy our first set of equipment and paid for a short but very meaningful survey of teachers. Every single teacher said, “Yes, I would be interested in a live stream learning offer from the Roald Dahl Museum.”

We already knew that what teachers and children care about most is our wonderful educators. What we didn’t have was any experience in delivering online. More concerningly, we didn’t have any prospect of income from schools. We didn’t know whether we’d be able to retain our wonderful learning team. So when the [Art Fund opportunity] was offered, it was really simple: “Please help us guarantee that we can keep on our learning team.”

What we’re trying to do is build an online programme that is as close to coming to the museum as possible. We had hoped to start rolling out later in the spring term, now it’s obviously moved to the summer. More time means we’re not doing it in such a desperate hurry, we can consider more, and I think that’s really healthy.’

‘We’re trying to get rid of a barrier that’s been holding us back as a charity and the amount of impact we can have: geography and the size of our site. If we can set up enough places to deliver sessions at the same time, then we can massively scale the programme. We might be able to go from 10 sessions a week to nearly 50, which would be around 1,600 per year. It’s not inconceivable. There are 16,000 primary schools in England alone and we think our offer would appeal to many. It may be a long time before schools feel able to make on-site visits again. Nobody knows right now. The next challenge is getting the digital infrastructure scaled up so we can respond to demand.

I get so excited when I talk about it because, despite being created by Covid, this feels like the opportunity that our little museum with the big name has been waiting for. We are trying to do something for the long term that really could unleash our potential as an educational heritage charity, and that is a wonderful silver lining to this whole pandemic mess.

I hope that we can ride out the ups and downs, so that we get to that point. It’s a good journey to be on, and great to be able to back a really talented group of people.’

Explore the Roald Dahl Museum.

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Your support will help museums respond to the challenges of Covid-19, and reimagine a brighter future.

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