This post comes from Lynsey Fairweather, Participation Coordinator at Thinktank and discusses their ongoing Ignite programme, which demonstrates principle one of the Charter
'Ignite is Thinktank’s Young People’s Forum that was set up in 2012, in response local young people asking for in depth and meaningful volunteering opportunities at the museum. In the 14 months that Ignite have been working with Thinktank, they have assisted in the curation of temporary exhibitions, developed their own pop-up exhibition on ecology, literally taken over the museum as part of Teen Takeover Day and more recently, interviewed the UK Government Chief Science Advisor on the subject of Climate Change. More importantly, Ignite has fundamentally changed the way that Think tank and Birmingham Museums works with Young People and we are now reshaping our strategic direction to include these young leaders'.
Ignite is a group that involves young people aged 16-24 in learning about STEM, heritage and culture, and provides opportunities for members to use their knowledge to help inform the public. It provides a voice for young people within the museum and aids in their work and social experience. Think tank has a well established history of providing work, volunteering and training opportunities for young people interested in STEM and science communication. The establishment of Ignite was based on several strands of research and past experience at Think tank.
Firstly the museum has run the successful Science and Heritage Career Ladder (SHCL) for the past five years which now provides work experience, volunteering and paid-traineeship opportunities for 16-17 year olds from Birmingham. Through this programme we have built up a wealth of experience in working with, training and consulting with young people. In addition, in June Half-Term 2012 the museum ran an HLF funded project with a group of 8 young people, who co-produced a walking trail around the Digbeth area of Birmingham.
The evaluation of this project was very positive with no drop-outs from the young people and a high quality, usable product for the museum. This success of this project was one of the drivers behind forming Ignite. The single, most frequently mentioned comment about our existing young people focussed programmes is that they all come to an end at some point. With Ignite, we wanted to create a long term approach to working with young people.
Ignite is shaped and led by its members who have ownership, authority and governance over all projects or activities they undertake. Since the forum’s formation in December 2012 the group has completed four projects; two short, one day projects and two large scale ventures. The group meets fortnightly and has ranged between 9-17 members. Ignite’s most significant project so far has been ‘Wild About Birmingham’.
Funding from the British Ecological Society provided the museum with a unique opportunity to develop a long-term project for Ignite to take part in. Wild About Birmingham was a co-produced exhibition about ecological science created by the museum and Ignite. Co-production takes place when the institution gives participants the tools and support to lead and shape a project. The outcome will be reflective of the participant’s goals as well as the institutional mission. Ignite worked closely with ecological researchers from the University of Birmingham to research, develop and create the content for the exhibition. In addition, they created and ran a programme of family activities for visitors to engage with. The exhibition then toured around a number of museums in Birmingham during the summer of 2013.
Evaluation showed that the exhibition received just short of 3,000 visitors whilst on display and had a really positive impact on the Ignite members that worked on it. “This whole exhibition has been a great opportunity to meet new people and learn how much planning goes into making even the smallest of exhibitions. It has been great fun!” (Forum Member). Ignite gave a total of 600 volunteer hours to the project. Across all projects Think tank aims to provide Ignite with access to a wide range of STEM subjects and cultural experiences. So far, these have included meeting and working with ecological scientists, medical researchers, graphic designers and museum staff. Facilitating these unique experiences is a great strength of the museum and means Ignite is constantly providing opportunities for young people that they may struggle to find elsewhere.