The University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) have been working with Cambridge City Council’s Children and Young People’s Participation Service (ChYpPS) for many years, but this year we took our partnership to the next level.

Susan Miller provides the lowdown on the UCM partnership with the ChYpPS team, and discusses its importance in helping us to reach families during this time of heightened isolation.  

So who are ChYpPS and what do they do?

The ChYpPS team work closely with children and families in areas experiencing higher levels of child poverty, and deliver free term-time and holiday activities in response to need. This includes running after school sessions, and the PlayDaze holiday programme of sports, games, and arts and craft activities in local parks and recreation grounds

Rob looking closely at fossils with ChYpPSp participant
The Sedgwick Museum’s Rob Theodore looking closely at fossils with a ChYpPS participant in 2019. This activity culminated in Rock ChYpPS, a display of young people’s fossil collections in the museum’s Community Cabinet.

How has the pandemic affected their work?

Like many of us, ChYpPS have had to take much of their programme online. This has included pre-recorded craft sessions available through their Facebook page, and live, interactive sessions which families book in advance. All of which have been extremely popular.

Doesn’t this cause an issue for families who don’t have reliable access to the internet?

It’s not ideal, but the team has been able to continue reaching many of the families they worked with pre-Covid. It has also allowed them to meet new families who might have been more hesitant about attending an in-person event. However, ChYpPS have also tried to ensure that those families most in need continue to have guaranteed access to their activities. This has included the provision of family packs containing activities and resources to complete at home and distributed through community hubs, lunch clubs, community centres and support groups.

This is all great stuff! How does the UCM come into it?

I thought you’d never ask. Traditionally our museums and Garden would team up with ChYpPS during the summer holidays to provide in-person activities for the PlayDaze programme. Since 2020 however, we have extended this partnership and our museums and Garden now regularly contribute to the ChYpPS holiday events programme throughout the year, and to the development and distribution of targeted activity packs.

Knights in Armour – a ChYpPS activity from the Fitzwilliam Museum

Why the change and what are the benefits of this closer partnership?

With the onset of the pandemic and the added difficulties of reaching families – especially those who have never visited our museums before – we realised we needed to be more strategic in the way we work. The ChYpPS team are already working closely with families and provide a great way for us to make contact and develop our relationships with local communities. By working together, we are able to offer those in need more than we can individually.

What kind of activities have the UCM delivered?

 How long have you got? Here’s a quick overview of what’s been achieved since July 2020:

  • 17 live, online family activities
  • 9 specially created pre-recorded activities
  • 2 downloadable activities for the ChYpPS Facebook page
  • 12 activities and supporting craft resources contributed to 2000 family packs for families most in need
  • Bespoke activity boxes, supporting resources and museum goody bags delivered to 3 local families as part of our Twilight at Home programme.

Tell us about the impact this has made.

Seeing as you asked so nicely…

At a time when we have not been able to welcome visitors or offer outreach activities in the usual way,  the partnership with the ChYpPS team has allowed the UCM to build new relationships with families and develop greater awareness and confidence around museums and collections. By offering a broad choice of free activities and themes in a fun and creative way, we have been able to connect with those who might not normally visit a museum. This has helped to break down barriers or pre-conceptions that the museums are ‘unreachable’ or not for them. Our regular participation in the ChYpPS activity programme has also allowed the relationships with families to develop and become more meaningful over time.

yellow splodge with a quote from the ChYpPS Development Officer; "This partnership has enabled us to offer our families an insight into the rich culture and historical tapestry the city has to offer in a way that is tangible, fun and non-threatening. Some of our families may have never stepped foot in a museum before; we hope these first encounters will inspire their interest and confidence to visit the museums independently in the future."

‘[This project allowed us] to reach families that are not able to access our online resources for a variety of reasons… This helps us to reach the audience we usually engage with at  the in person events – those who may not have visited the museum before’.
Learning Officer, Museum of Zoology 

‘The kids were great, it was so nice to do delivery to real faces… I could be responsive to them: we had two girls whose dad was from Peru, so I got out extra Peruvian pots for them to see.’
Community and Outreach Organiser, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

‘Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for the museum sessions. My daughter enjoyed both the sessions we booked onto, but was particularly fascinated with Friday’s microscope session and went back on the site and did lots of drawings… Thank you for inspiring her!’
Response from a family attending a Whipple/ChYpPS half-term session

‘Thanks for setting this up. The workshop was wonderfully led and the concepts presented inspirational. We will definitely visit when it opens, fingers crossed that’s soon!’
Response from a family attending a Kettle’s Yard/ChYpPS half-term session

So what does the future hold?

To quote Karen Carpenter, ‘we’ve only just begun’. This partnership has become an embedded way of working over the last year and is now a key strand within the UCM families and communities programming. The next step is to establish a blended approach to events delivery with museums offering both online and in-person events starting in May. We’d also like to consider how we encourage families who participate in the ChYpPS programme into our museums. This might be through the offer of special activities or museum experiences, or ‘getting to know the museums’ sessions facilitated by the ChYpPS team.

Watch this space…