October 6th in the Uk was deemed Age Friendly Museum Day. Good. Looks as if they are woke at last. But are they?
The term Age Friendly implies that a Museum is seeking to welcome older people as visitors. Happy to see that if so.
But is there a worry that it is slightly patronising?
And maybe the danger of missing some important boats?
Lets have a look at Museums and Later Years
from the point of view of both.
Museums basically need:
Visitor numbers, the widest possible market.
Money and Help, especially the smaller ones.
To be seen doing the current politically correct socially inclusive thing.
What do Later Years People offer them?
We are a growing demographic, a new market. And we are a different segment of the total market. This population living 10 extra bonus years has not previously existed.
We have health and leisure time that, most importantly, is in the week.
Many have sufficient income to travel and to take days out. Coach trips and heritage tours are very very popular. Especially with a good tea room.
We wish to enhance our new lives. New skills, extend old hobbies. We are interested in history and still very curious to learn. Family history and local heritage is one of the growth interests for older people. Maybe be it has always been the role of the older generation? From historic times, they have been the guardians of tribal history.
Most of us have grandchildren. Most of us care for grandchildren especially in schools holidays. Look around next time you are in a museum. So often the party is grandparents and children, not parents and child. We love showing them our past, our history and sharing their excitement.
The local Museum blurb about the Age Friendly day implied that families should bring in their old people. NO! The realty is that older people bring in their families!
Get the grandparents in, boost your visitor numbers and ensure the next generations will love you too.
We are a Major Resource for Museums. Thousands of us are Friends, Volunteers, Guides, Cataloguers…. Skilled workers , often retired experts, without whom most smaller museums would not survive. And who contribute enormously to the whole museum and heritage industry. And we love to be useful, to be needed.
We can be Patrons and Benefactors. In some cases, substantially. Some of us are making wills, others have collections or items to bequeath. Court us!
Friends groups raise considerable funds for their Museums and are able to apply for grants from outside funders. Again, often substantial.
All these are the potential boats Museums could be missing if they are not awake to the possibilities.
Later Years folk are not just occasional visitors!
The Future is not just about a Museum being Friendly to older people, but working with them as valuable and essential partners.
However, we do need to look at how museums can be Age Friendly and inviting.
Easy Physical access of course. But not just getting in, lifts and rails on stairs.
Where are the toilets? If I have walked through three long galleries and urgently need a loo, as many of us do, especially older men, I do not want to have to walk all the way back and go down to a basement to reach one. Older people need plenty of toilets. And we need grab bars and higher seats for the rusty knees. Not locked disabled toilets, just normal ones, thought about.
And can I read the information? Recently went to a Friends event at our local Museum. Everyone was complaining. The elegant texts were:
Silver grey, on white and small print which doesnt help if you have incipient cataracts. But worse, most were at the back of cases, just out of focus distance for reading glasses! Noses flat to glass and still unreadable. We all moaned.
And where have you put them? Do I really have to squat and peer to read. No! Not at 83 please!
Please test all info panels on older people! Forget artistic elegance…..
Chairs, chairs and more chairs. Everywhere. Slower walking, standing with painful knees and back ache are normal ordinary things to live with in later years. No problem if you can take a break whenever.
But if you visited the newly renovated Art Gallery in Hull, you will have seen the new bench seating. Very modern, but how do I get up? The older chairs in the Victorian wing had sensible arms! And no arms is increasingly the norm. It shouldnt be.
Those carry around folding seats are a great help, but not often offered. They should be in all galleries.
And again, if you are having a reception, talk or a guided tour.
Older people dislike standing. We need seats.
Went to a talk recently and had to give up. Every possible leaning or sitting spot already taken by someone with grey hair!