Collections and Identity

Case Study

Collections and Identity: rediscovering yourself through museum objects

RAMM worked with Devon Recovery Learning Community to develop a course which explored ideas around collections and identity.

The challenges

The idea was to create a short course which would help people with mental health issues reach a stage where disability and symptoms would no longer define an individual’s identity or prevent people from achieving personally important life goals. A supportive atmosphere was crucial.

The background

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) has been steadily expanding its use of museum objects and the museum environment to create potentially life-changing experiences for people affected by mental health issues.

RAMM provided this course in collaboration with Devon Recovery Learning Community (DRLC), which supports people to live happier, more hopeful lives without necessarily expecting to eradicate every symptom and characteristic of mental illness. Co-production is a key aspect of Recovery Education. The six-week course was an equal partnership, jointly devised and delivered by RAMM and a DRLC professional who has lived experience of mental health.

University College London (UCL) supported us in evaluating the course using its groundbreaking UCL Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit. The Toolkit has been designed to help evaluate the impact of in-house or outreach museum projects on the psychological wellbeing of their audience.

The course

The way that any person can be drawn (or not) to particular museum objects, reveals aspects of who we are and our place in the world. This course – which was directed to anyone who felt their identity had been compromised in some way – explored RAMM’s displays and handling collections, inspiring students to develop a portfolio of creative responses. Students were guided through activities from poetry and storytelling to photography, drawing and painting.

During the process of engaging with the collections and each other, the group shared interesting, enlightening and often hilarious conversations and life experiences.

What changed?

Of nine students who started the course, three students were unable to commit to all six weeks because of changes in their personal circumstances. However, the six students who completed the entire course reported clear improvement in their sense of hope, control and opportunity, which psychiatrists Glenn Roberts and Jed Boardman describe as the most important factors influencing personal recovery.

The UCL evaluation Toolkit helped RAMM and DRLC tutors to adapt to each student’s needs as their level of participation grew. Final results showed a 20% overall group improvement, with one individual achieving 52% improvement in a single session.

What did people say?

“We support… people in recovery, practitioners and others to co-produce learning, teaching and change. The museum and its collections are an inspirational resource to help achieve this objective.” Devon Recovery Learning Community

“I learnt new skills and lessons about myself.” Student

“I plan to look at the things I like and do those more.” Student

“One thing I plan to do differently after…this course is to really try hard to spend a couple of hours each week on my own and in my head, being calm and creative.” Student

What next?

The course is being offered to a new group of students in Autumn 2014. RAMM and its partners are seeking funding to carry on into 2015 and beyond. The museum continues to develop activities to support people making a transition to healthier, happier lives.

For further information

Please contact Ruth Gidley,  RAMM Engagement Officer: [email protected].

Collections and Identity Case Study PDF