Never Going Underground marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the start of the process to decriminalise homosexuality. The project aimed to uncover the history of the LGBT+ activists who have fought for equality over the past 60 years.
People’s History Museum (PHM) was sure from the outset that the project should be co-curated with the community and provide a platform for a range of voices to be heard. They recruited a team of volunteer curators from the LGBT+ communities in and around Manchester and supported them to deliver a dynamic range of activity, attracting new audiences to the museum.
During 2017, linking to a national LGBT History Festival and Pride events, they led the development of a range of learning workshops and events and contributed to a large-scale exhibition.
I believe there is so much the museum and cultural sector can do for all marginalised groups in society and I hope I can be part of something like this one day.
Comment from the Visitors book
The considerable time and commitment shown by the community curators were recognised and celebrated by a range of local and national awards, including the Volunteer Team of the Year award from Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence.
Heritage was better interpreted through the high-quality exhibition. Over 51,000 visitors attended the museum during the exhibition’s run. 73% of the comments in the visitor book were positive messages about the displays, such as: “Such a concise and thoughtful exhibition! Came to Manchester from Sunderland just to see this. Worth it! Solidarity forever.”
Another visitor to the exhibition commented: "I am currently studying for my Masters in museum studies and, as a lesbian, I feel so overwhelmingly inspired by this exhibition. I believe there is so much the museum and cultural sector can do for all marginalised groups in society and I hope I can be part of something like this one day."
Exhibition resources were developed for Key Stages 2 and 3 and Post-16 groups to do self-guided visits – over 4,000 learners used these resources.
Meeting our outcomes
The National Lottery Heritage Fund's outcome ‘a wider range of people will be involved with heritage’ was achieved by the community curators and PHM staff inviting an inclusive range of LGBT+ led organisations and voluntary groups to discuss the project from an early stage.
This flexible process ensured exhibition themes and objects displayed were reflective of the differing experiences of LGBT+ communities. The consultative development approach also meant a wider range of people were aware of the plans and a sense of anticipation was built through social media and other networks.
To be as inclusive as possible, free sessions and coach travel were offered to schools that had never visited the museum before resulting in 11 sessions for over 180 children.
Learning through workshops
Visitors also learned about the heritage of LBGT communities through a range of tailored workshops, for example for families and young people. Members of Proud 2B Parents took part in four consultation workshops to develop both the exhibition and the programme of family-friendly events.
The museum then hosted 10 family workshops, linking to the objects in the exhibition, and encouraging participants to celebrate their individual identity and to question and challenge contemporary ideas of ‘what is normal?’
Working with an artist, young people experimented with creative techniques to design their own protest art during sessions at the Museum, drawing inspiration from the exhibition.
PHM staff and volunteers developed collection skills and gained heritage knowledge.
At PHM, everyone involved in the project found large-scale co-production to be achievable and effective. Staff feel the experience of demonstrating success in working with the community in this way has helped the museum be more outward facing.
As one staff member noted in the evaluation: “PHM is in a unique position to tell marginalised stories – we have a responsibility to represent these voices.”
Staff reported that the delivery of LGBT+ awareness training for everyone involved in the project was important and very effective. There is a plan to embed this training within induction for new starters, especially for the front of house staff.