As the new academic year gets underway, let’s look back on a year of exciting Widening Participation activity across the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) – a range of projects to support children and young people who might experience barriers to taking part in our cultural offer.

The year started with a collaboration between The Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettle’s Yard to work with all Year 7 students from strategic partner school North Cambridge Academy as part of a transition project in September. All students were welcomed into both museums, completing activities which would lead to a Discover Arts Award. These visits were a great way to begin the students’ relationship with the museums at the beginning of their secondary school careers, as well as to support transition into their new school and new friendships with new classmates. We were delighted to welcome the students back for a celebration event at The Fitzwilliam Museum one evening  in December. Students were able to receive their Discover Arts Award certificates and to celebrate with their classmates, teachers, parents and guardians. As part of the event, Year 10 students from North Cambridge Academy thoroughly impressed everyone by speaking eloquently to introduce ‘UNTITLED: The Students of our Time’ – a video they created with Kettle’s Yard in response to its UNTITLED exhibition. 

Small groups from two of our strategic partner schools also went on to work towards Bronze Arts Awards with the Museums – projects with the aim of raising attainment, improving soft skills and increasing confidence. 15 Year 8 students from North Cambridge Academy worked with Kettle’s Yard and The Fitzwilliam Museum to complete the Arts Award through engaging with exhibitions of work by Ai Weiwei, David Hockney and Magdalene Odundo. A further group of 15 Year 8s from Soham Village College achieved Arts Awards through projects which connected to study of their English set text, Romeo and Juliet. Through activities at The Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanic Garden, they were able to explore the context of Shakespeare’s play, from discovering plants used in Tudor poisons at the Garden, to learning about Tudor costume at The Fitzwilliam Museum and participating in a drama workshop with theatre director Michael Judge. Soham Village College students who took part in the Bronze Arts Award described it as

fun, exciting, a new experience’  and ‘very cool and it’s nice to do and could get your confidence up!’.

When asked if it helped with work at school, responses indicated it supported students in the following ways:

‘it was inspiring because it helps me learn new skills’  and ‘my confidence on performing in front of people and improvising’.  

Group of young people wearing jackets stand surrounded by trees on a bright sunny day
Students from Soham Village College explore poisons and cures at the Botanic Garden

Summer term saw The Fitzwilliam Museum working with partner school, Soham Village College, again – this time, engaging with their entire cohort of c. 250 Year 8 students over the course of a fortnight. With the primary aim of enhancing cultural capital through encouraging the students to feel welcome and confident in the Museum, a range of activities was also planned which spanned multiple areas of their curriculum, including History, Art and English. 

Spearheaded by Opening Doors Project Coordinator Niki Hughes, the Museums took part in a host of activities with the goal of raising aspirations and awareness of the range of careers in museums. Working closely with careers organisation Form the Future, the UCM has been represented at careers fairs, in-school careers talks and online work experience taster days. Additionally, two work experience weeks were held for Year 10 students from North Cambridge Academy and Coleridge Community College. Students took part in a rich programme of activities with staff in a range of roles across The Fitzwilliam Museum, including conservators, technicians and colleagues in Front of House and Marketing and Communications. The weeks even involved taking over social media accounts for Kids in Museums Takeover Day – find out what students from Coleridge Community College got up to here. The work experience students worked with Rob Theodore, Exhibitions and Displays Coordinator at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, to curate a fantastic display of their own, which was unveiled at the end of each week. When asked what they gained from taking part in the work experience weeks, students’ responses included:

‘I gained experience in areas of work that I wouldn’t previously have thought of’

‘I gained confidence with talking to strangers/people I didn’t know’

‘I gained knowledge about museums in general (all the different jobs within the museum – not just a curator’

Photograph of text panel from exhibition

Image of exhibition display featuring transgender flag alongside rock samples in similar colours
Exhibition curated by work experience students from Coleridge Community College

In the summer, the Museum was delighted to support faculties and departments across the University in delivering Sutton Trust summer schools, which took place in-person after being delivered online in the the previous two years due to Covid-19. Across the Museums, summer schools were supported in History, History of Art, Education, Psychology, Classics, Divinity and Philosophy, and Earth Sciences. Particular highlights included exploring colonialism at The Fitzwilliam Museum with the History summer school, courtesy of members of the UCM team Danika Parikh, Ruchika Gurung and Shereese Peters-Valton; as well as Director of the Sedgwick Museum, Liz Hide, leading the Earth Sciences summer school group on an urban field trip to look for fossils in building stones.

Exhibition plans on paper featuring western and non-western portrayals of Venus
Students on the History of Art Sutton Trust summer school devise their own exhibition plans.

Learning colleagues across the Museums continued to deliver an incredibly strong offer of extra-curricular activities for school-age young people to explore their favourite subjects beyond the classroom. Justyna Ladosz got the Museum of Classical Archaeology’s Minimus Primary Latin Clubs back up and running in local primary schools. Sarah-Cate Blake was able to return to in-person delivery of The Fitzwilliam Museum’s SOURCE programme of invaluable exam support for Art and Design students at GCSE, A-level and BTEC in February half-term. Roz Wade and Sara Steele at the Museum of Zoology continue to run their Zoology and Young Zoologists’ Clubs, sending online newsletters and invitations to exclusive special events to an extensive membership, and Rosie Amos at the Polar Museum coordinates a series of exciting workshops on The Art of Science for young people interested in exploring the connections between artistic and scientific enquiry.  

And now, as the new academic year moves on apace, we’re excited to be getting stuck into building on last year’s experiences to deliver new projects with our strategic partner schools. We’re also looking forward to: developing partnerships in Fenland, where we hope to have chance to explore the legacies of enslavement through the UCM’s Power and Memory programme; continuing our relationships with Widening Participation colleagues across the collegiate University, particularly the College Schools’ Liaison Officers; and building on our partnership with the Cambridgeshire Virtual School to create a stronger offer for Looked After Children and Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children. 

You can find out more about the impact and outcomes of this programme in SOURCE Evaluation Report.