Making the most of our unique space
Back in the summer of 2018, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the brilliant one-day conference A Culture of Lates, organised by Culture24.
Listening to what other major museum players like the National History Museum were doing in terms of after-hours events was fascinating, but I quickly realised that many of the models being talked about would not work for Chiltern Open Air Museum, a museum of rescued historical buildings set in forty-five acres of forest and farmland in Buckinghamshire.
So the question was how best to capitalise on what the museum has, and what we can provide for visitors. First of all, our events would need to take place in the summer when there is light into the evening. If they were to be regular events (which out of all the advice given at the conference was one of my stand-out takeaways), they would need to be relatively low maintenance in terms of setup and staffing. But most importantly, they needed to capitalise on the unique experience we can offer people in the evening – the beautiful, peaceful atmosphere and environment of the Museum.
Planning the events
I came up with the idea of “Mindful Mondays”. The importance of practicing mindfulness for mental and physical wellbeing is becoming more widely recognised, and one of the major aspects of this philosophy is to re-connect with the natural world and a slower pace of life.
I wanted to turn the museum into a place for people to explore different ways of practicing mindful activities.
I set up a ‘Forest Bathing’ trail through-out our woodland walk; designed meditation tags and a soundtrack for our Tin Chapel; set up colouring and drawing stations in one of the barns; and bought a fire pit to enhance the atmosphere and allow people to fire gaze. I also made sure there were some reference books as an introduction to mindfulness and forest bathing.
To ensure our activities had some active instruction attached, I arranged for a local Tai Chi group to come along in order to give our visitors some introductory sessions.
Finally, to provide a little variety each week and encourage return visits, I asked some of our volunteers to come in and demonstrate a ‘forgotten skill’. So far, the skills we have showcased are straw plaiting and rag rugging sessions for people to participate in.
This is the first year that we’ve run these events and we were unsure what sort of response we would get from our visitors. Although visitor numbers have not been huge, I was pleased to see that these events seem to encourage repeat visits: at our first two events we have always sold tickets to the next one!
We have also been struck by dreadful weather (I had to change my coat twice, I was so soaked) but fortunately our visitors still came along! I had a wet weather plan so that the event could still go ahead, and moved the Tai Chi from outside into one of our barns, and the fire-gazing into one of our cosy cottages.
We still have two more evenings to go, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for better weather and more time for word of mouth to spread.
Caroline Melia is Events Manager at Chiltern Open Air Museum.