On 5 October 2019, Poole Museum quadrupled its visitor figures compared to the same day the previous year. Every floor was crowded with people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. Music, laughter and excited voices filled the building.
The event was Fun Palaces – a national campaign where venues of all kinds put on events run by and for local communities
Rachel Martin, Community Curator, organised Poole Museum’s first Fun Palace. Here she outlines how it worked, what was successful, and the lessons learned.
“Fun Palaces is hyper-local and a great way for me to get to know the communities on our doorstep. It helped us recognise our local area as made up of individuals with many different talents and passions.”
The museum invited ordinary people into the museum toshare their hobbies, interests and skills with the wider community. Activities included Mexican dancing, Ukulele playing, Russian culture, weaving and spinning, poetry, creative writing, origami, junk modelling, etc.
Entry to the event was free and visitors were encouraged to join in with activities and learn new skills. We didn’t target artists or professionals as the key was to showcase people’s hidden talents and passions.
What were our aims and motivations?
Help build links with community groups in an informal, engaging way.
Create a vibrant community event – a festival buzz – with wide multi-generational appeal.
Bring people into the museum who hadn’t visited before.
Promote a sense of ‘fun’ within the museum – which ties in with our aims to improve our family offer.
Our planning process
Held a scoping meeting with staff, then a session for volunteers.
Signed up Poole Museum on the Fun Palaces website (you get your own page there and update it as you get more activities).
As organiser, Rachel talked to EVERYBODY she knew about Fun Palaces – community partners, colleagues, friends, family, school mums, etc. She asked if they were willing to run an activity, or if they could suggest anyone else who might. All the community groups involved came via this word of mouth approach.
Enlisted the help of a talented young volunteer for the graphic design. She used the Fun Palaces style guidelines to create posters and the programme.
Created a Facebook event and added updates in the lead up.
Worked with colleagues on planning the event (timings and where each activity would be based) and doing risk assessments.
Created Fun Palace lanyards to identify everyone who was running an activity (and show it wasn’t a Poole Museum event but a community takeover)
Created a work plan for volunteers to help set up and run the event.
“It’s amazing how many secret talents people have, and how receptive they were to the Fun Palaces idea.”
Achievements and unexpected benefits
We built positive relationships with the community groups, and hope to work with them again.
There was a superb atmosphere and buzz which is reflected in the public feedback and on social media.
The event attracted people of all ages, but especially multi-generational family groups.
Many people commented that they hadn’t been to the museum before – but would in the future.
There was a good variety of activities, spread across the whole museum.
Volunteers got involved in new and different ways, and they really appreciated having the chance to shine.
It was good for morale, both for museum staff and volunteers – there was a real sense of pulling together as a team.
It was put together on a minimal budget, with a focus on reusing/recycling.
“The wonderful colourful costumes and vitality of the dancers was a joy. I didn’t realise we had a Mexican community, and it opened my eyes to the wonderful diversity within Poole.”
Things to consider for next year
Be bolder and braver, and hand over more control to the community.
Have the programme ready two weeks in advance and promote it as widely as possible.
Do more PR beforehand – other organisations were getting mentions on radio which we missed.
Use social media to call for participants as well as advertise the event.
Stagger the times of the activities so everything isn’t happening at once.
Have a volunteer going from station to station checking the exhibitors are okay, e.g., if they needed stationery, a glass of water, a comfort break.
Have a dedicated social media person. Brilliant opportunities for photo and video posts were missed because we were all too busy.
Have a volunteer to help with the audio equipment for the music sessions – to set up and ensure all is working.
Think about extra support for the café staff to help clearing and wiping tables.
Use the event as a spotlight for environmental concerns.
Try to avoid asking artists to work for free, instead remember that the focus is on discovering ordinary people’s secret skills and talents.
The process is just as important as the actual day/event. Working with communities to plan events helps build relationships.
We can use this ‘pop-up’ format for other events in the museum.
Live demonstrations and ‘meet the maker’ sessions work really well – consider for our general programming.
“The museum had an amazing atmosphere of happiness. So many people, all smiling!”
Data from the day
We had 857 visitors on the day (compared to 206 visitors for the same Saturday last year and 488 visitors the previous Saturday).
We had people running activities on all the museum floors – including staff, volunteers and local organisations – of all ages and nationalities.
Four community groups took part who hadn’t previously been involved with the museum.
Twenty-nine people filled in participant surveys.
“The best event for kids we have been to in Poole!”
“Great that families can get together and learn and play together.”
First steps to running a Fun Palace
If you are interested in running a Fun Palace, the first step is to look at the resources on their website. There are lots of tips, Q&As and resources to help you plan your event.
You can also get in touch with Rachel Martin for more information.
Rachel Martin, Our Museum Engagement Officer, Poole Museum