The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, is officially the most family friendly museum in Britain. It took a team of undercover family judges, secretly visiting the six shortlisted museums and assessing them against the Kids in Museums Manifesto, to pick out a winner.
The Herbert scored top marks on the Manifesto’s 20 ways to make a museum family friendly, drawn up by visitors. From the family friendly welcome to the wave goodbye, the museum beat off mighty national institutions and grand stately homes to win Britain’s biggest museum award. The prize is 500 Mammoth Activity Sheets, illustrated by Quentin Blake and designed and donated by Foldedsheet.com.
Family judge Claire Jowett, 42, who visited undercover with her two children Molly, 9, and Ruby, 5, said, ‘We loved it! We immediately felt welcome. When you go in there’s a very open space – not like in other museums, where there’s a desk in the middle and you have to walk around it to get in. We ran straight into a workshop on designing an outfit. The vibe was so good; families were joking together. One of the ladies running it pointed out the fashion exhibition on the first floor; I thought it was very good she made a link to the galleries. We saw no signs saying, “Do this, do that.” No dictating the way we should do things. It was like the museum respected us. They gave suggestions and let us decide where to go or what to do.’
Molly Jowett, 9, said, ‘We went to the front desk and I asked the lady if there was a family trail. There were different heights at the desk so I could ask my question to her very easily and she looked at me while we were talking. She said, “Think with me about what you’d like to see,” so she wasn’t telling me what to do, which was very good. I really loved the workshop. There were lots of materials, like lace and glitters and glue. I hate it when there’s no good glue! I listened to audio stories on a head set. I heard actual people’s memories, like this woman describing how she made dresses out of curtains during the war. This one thing had a label saying, ‘Please touch’. Isn’t that funny? Most of the times you are not allowed to touch anything in a museum!’
Her little sister Ruby said, ‘I was able to open the door to the bathroom myself. At other places the door is so heavy I have to ask an adult to help me. I dressed up as Lady Godiva in a nice coat and I rode on the toy horse, not only in a little area but all around the whole room. I collected very nice stickers and there were footprints on the floor to show which way to start. In every gallery there was a basket with pencils in it and they were sharp. When we left the people from the front desk asked us to keep contact and waved us goodbye.
Helen Rehman, 36, and her husband Mohammed and their children Alfie, 4, and Izzy, 18 months, were also undercover judges at the Herbert. ‘I told Alfie we were secret museum inspectors. He was very proud so told everyone about it. He shouted, ‘Is this the secret museum?’ when we arrived. I told him not to say anything. His favourite part was ‘Dressing up as a Cool Dude.’ You get used to just being grateful for anything for your kids. But being undercover judges made us look in more detail at what they actually did.’
For press use of the Quentin Blake Kids in Museums mammoth logo and images of the shortlisted museums and family judges, contact [email protected] or call 020 7022 1888.