Broadening engagement with heritage

Makers at Bethlem Gallery's studio workshop Credit: Bethlem Gallery
Held as part of the Inclusive Heritage conference 2015, this workshop explored different ways to broaden engagement with heritage.


Presenters from the Bethlem Gallery in London and RSPB Minsmere spoke about their personal experiences of engaging staff, volunteers and visitors.

Workshop discussions

How to successfully engage people

Successful engagement can depend on how you give people information and how you explain what you are trying to achieve. The Bethlem presentation discussed the role art can play in bringing people together and sharing ideas. Through the use of art, for example, you can make important messages non-threatening and encourage people to want to participate.

Inclusive heritage is about working in partnership with staff, visitors and volunteers - this can help to enable inclusive participation.

Creating spaces

Bethlem Gallery's Museum of the Mind provides a space for patient care and the public to come together. A 'maker' from the gallery presented her art at the workshop, helping to show what is possible in a space created especially for making. Those visiting Bethlem Gallery engage with the art by observing her while she works and asking her questions about the reasons behind her art.

At RSPB Minsmere, changes were made to how the site worked, this included changes to the infrastructure to improve accessibility, such as the layout of the new visitor centre, pathways, and new accessible bird hides.

The Discover Nature project aimed to stretch audiences… the team worked carefully to make sure that a range of audiences were catered for. Adam Rowland, Senior Site Manager, RSPB Minsmere

Accessibility is about more than just physical access. There is a constant need to respond to how people feel able to engage with heritage and culture, and develop a sense of belonging and comfort.

Changing attitudes

Heritage projects may need to make organisational changes to help engage people with heritage. Discussions dealt with staff and volunteers who struggle to understand the changes an organisation is making - suggestions included working with them to show how the changes might benefit them as well as visitors.

At RSPB Minsmere, the project took staff and volunteers through a period of change in terms of the attitude towards people using the site. Staff and volunteers were trained to help answer visitors' questions - this was seen as a positive learning opportunity. It was the start of a conversation about people coming together and welcoming participation.

Read the full summary of the workshop written by Heather Smith, Equalities Specialist at the National Trust below.

Visitors explore the collection at Bethlem Museum
The honours cabinet by maker Sue Burbidge, Bethlem Gallery
Miller-Smith family visiting RSPB Minsmere nature reserve Credit: Peter Everard Smith
Birdspotting at RSPB Minsmere Credit: Peter Everard Smith
Back to top of page