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Case Study: The Foundling Museum’s hybrid approach reaches young and isolated people in lockdown

Museum Director Caro Howell explains how The Foundling Museum navigated a hybrid approach to supporting their network of volunteers and young care-leavers to continue the museum’s mission after the advent of Covid-19. Case study from May 2021.

Participants of the 2021 intake of the Foundling Museum’s “Tracing our Tales” graduate programme.

About the organisation

The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury, London, is a force for change. Inspired by three great 18th century activists – Thomas Coram, William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel – we believe in creative action that brings past and present together, to stimulate imaginations and enrich young lives. We celebrate the work of artists and inspire people to take positive action that transforms lives and creates a lasting impact.

What did you want to achieve?

Our engagement programmes have a particular focus on care-experienced young people, including a training programme for young adults that leads to paid work, supporting our family programmes. For our care-experienced trainees, living alone in hostels, with no family support, internet access, or digital equipment, and with only pay-as-you-go phone contracts, the isolation of lockdown was acute.

Most of our trainees also have poor mental health. So from the moment lockdown hit, it was essential we found ways to maintain their self-esteem, skills and sense of community, even though a short zoom call reduced their connectivity to 3G and expensive kit could put them at risk of theft from their rooms.

What led you to reach out to the Digital Culture Network?

The Foundling Museum’s team benefitted from the DCN webinars, which provided much-needed advice and inspiration for engaging audiences digitally.  We wanted to ensure that we worked with our core communities in a way that best supported them, including our care-experienced trainees and graduates who needed ‘low-tech’ communication solutions. Given that our young care-leavers were marginalised and invisible, it was also important to us that they had a voice and a presence in our digital offering while the museum was closed.

What happened?

As part of their training, care-leavers had taken part in creative games designed to build confidence and a sense of camaraderie, and reduce feelings of self-consciousness. With the training programme suspended and the museum closed, we decided to adapt these games into activities for families to do together in lockdown. The trainees practiced delivering instructions on the phone, before being filmed over Zoom. The footage was then combined with images of pre-Covid workshops and training sessions, and posted on our website and social media (check out the family activity videos here). Creating these films gave the trainees something external to focus on. It also reminded them of happy times, kept their engagement skills alive, and provided a friendly, familiar, and trusted person to talk to on a regular basis. Ultimately, as a result of these conversations, they were able to make a longer film, ‘Isolation Notes’, that addressed the impact of lockdown head-on.

What have you learned?

While we did expand our digital activity during 2020, we deliberately resisted the pressure to ‘pivot to digital’, knowing that this would exclude the very communities we are committed to supporting. Instead, we focussed resources on finding hybrid solutions. Having long-established programmes embedded in personal relationships, enabled us to maintain contact with participants and devise creative models that met the many individualised challenges that precluded an easy digital fix.

This included our partner schools, who remained open through lockdown, but whose safeguarding policies prevented live streaming. Alongside them were our volunteers, including former pupils of the Foundling Hospital, who had very limited IT skills, as well as our care-leavers, who lacked equipment or connectivity. By quickly transforming museum-based programmes into delivery off-site and/or on the phone, we were able to maintain support, despite Covid. Some solutions have proved so successful that we are retaining them. This enables us to increase our number of partner schools, expand beyond early years into primary and secondary, and double the intake of care-experienced trainees this year.

What’s next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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