Partnership working to engage diverse families

Tracy Linsley, Family Inclusion Officer at Tees Valley Museums, tells us how they used partnerships to engage diverse families during a pandemic.

Tees Valley Museums group is an NPO consortium of seven venues across five local authority venues. It is part of the North East Family Arts Network.


Now in its third year, Togetherfest is a series of events across Tees Valley Museum venues linked by the same ideas and principles. We consider the venues’ collections and exhibitions and how the experiences that families participate in will help us to engage with them.  We hope that after visiting our venues, families will have felt welcomed, included, represented and that they’ve had a memorable and fun experience.


In 2021’s Togetherfest, as well as having some events open to the general public, we collaborated with several organisations in recruiting families with diverse needs, engaging families during the event and peer reviewing the events:

At the Museum of Hartlepool we invited young carers to a day full of activities and we piloted new collection based storywriting activities which included;

  • A storywriting workshop – using museum objects led by a storywriter/teller
  • A magic selfie mirror – using props to create characters
  • Craft activities – creating your own character
  • A tour – small group tours using your imagination to interpret objects in the collection

“There was a diverse audience including families from different ethnicities, intergenerational groups and economic backgrounds, many visiting for the first time.”

Families actively participated and engaged together in different activities. There was a diverse audience including families from different ethnicities, intergenerational groups and economic backgrounds, many visiting for the first time.

Restoration work was underway at Kirkleatham Museum and space was limited, so it was decided that activities there would take place outside the museum. This limited the types of activities and numbers that could be catered for, but it was a great opportunity to engage local families who didn’t currently visit the museum.

We partnered with Family Hubs in Redcar and Feast of Fun who provide holiday activities and food to families over the school holidays. Sixty potential visitors were recruited via Feast of Fun. We had planned a carousel of activities to engage the families in the venue’s Saxon collection, through working with various freelancers and the in-house learning team. However, as Covid rates were still high in the area, Feast of Fun coordinators eventually decided to go back to supplying their services remotely instead of events involving families gathering in person. We adjusted plans and publicly advertised the event. Although some communication issues resulted in Family Hub families not attending, the day was still well attended by general visitors. Despite minor setbacks, this experience has developed our relationship with Feast of Fun and the Family Hubs, and we are in a stronger position to work with them again to encourage new families to visit us in the future.

A child is colouring in an illustration. An elderly person is sitting nearby.
Families and museum staff looking at vases exhibited in a museum
Children fighting with toy swords and shields
A family walking together on a two planks: as if the planks were skies but all three people all share the same planks. They are holding on to the planks with strings.

Breaking down barriers

We know that many of the families who visit the recreational parks near to our venues don’t choose to visit us. To tackle this, Preston Park Museum worked in partnership with our council’s Sport Development department to facilitate family challenges outside of the venue. This successfully attracted some families closer to the museum and gave facilitators a chance to talk to them about all the activities going on inside the venue. Youth volunteers from Bright Minds Big Future also came along and supported the engagement.

At Stewart Park, the launch of a pirate trail on the day of Togetherfest along with family activities outside the museum entrance also meant visitors to the park were encouraged to enter the Captain Cook Museum to purchase their trail map. This gave staff a great opportunity to encourage families to purchase Day or Explorer Passes to visit the museum galleries as part of their visit.

We were also supported on the days by Rare Rockets, a BSL interpretation charity that engaged with families throughout. Initially we had requested they attend the day at Head Of Steam with a view to supporting families’ understanding of how people live with disabiliities, as well as linking in with a temporary exhibition “Disability on the tracks”. However following the success of this event, we will be working in partnership with Rare Rockets on further events to engage and support deaf families in our venues.

Secret shoppers

We worked with the Family Explorers North East 12,000-strong Facebook community to recruit Secret Shoppers to visit Togetherfest at Preston Park Museum. We were keen to find out what they thought of the event but also get feedback about the museum’s offer, including facilities.

When choosing the families, we selected a range of ages of children to enable diverse feedback and be able to assess the suitability of the range of activities we had on offer. We also prioritised locality to the venue as we hoped the families would visit regularly in the future. The families were issued with a pack on arrival including score-cards and review sheets from Family Explorers and a detailed feedback form. We had four Secret Shopper families attend on the day. Feedback from the participants was mainly positive, with some constructive criticism which was extremely useful.

“The whole museum invites you to explore & play together as a family, from talking about the exhibits to exploring the street/gardens.”

“100% top would be the sign language session. Girls loved dressing up for their selfie & trying on hats in the hat shop. Activities & staff well thought out”

“Time playing as a family with the street games. So many things to do.”

A poster calling out for secret shoppers at Preston Park Museum and Grounds

16 December 2021



Tracy Linsley, Family Inclusion Officer, Tees Valley Museum

Tees Valley Museums group is an NPO consortium of seven venues across five local authority venues. It is part of the North East Family Arts Network.

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16 December 2021