A group of ESOL learners at the Horniman museum

ESOL learners and community engagement

Domenico Sergi , 16.10.2017
Case study from the Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London is opening its new World Gallery of Anthropology next year. Local families requested that it contain family-friendly interpretation.

To make the interpretation as inclusive as possible, we wanted to work with ESOL learners and their families, as part of the Horniman’s community engagement programme.

We worked with local ESOL provider Adult Learning Lewisham to run an accredited adult ESOL course over 14 weeks. The aim was to develop gallery interpretation labels that will be accessible to our visitors, as well as meeting ESOL learning outcomes.

Session plans were developed in partnership, drawing on our curators’ knowledge of the planned displays. Eight families took part in the sessions, which were held at the Horniman and included art workshops for the ESOL learners’ older children, facilitated by south London artist Daniel Wallis, and a creche for the youngest family members.

All the participants successfully completed the course, and the museum now has a set of colourful and engaging images and labels that will form part of the World Gallery when it opens in spring 2018, giving families an accessible way to experience the ideas and stories in our anthropology displays.

This project was always conceived with our wider ethos in mind – that community engagement should build sustainable connections and offer progression routes to those taking part – so its impact doesn’t stop there.

In May this year we held our community symposium, an annual think-tank where we ask community partners to help us shape an area of our future work. This year we focused on developing our ESOL offer, and the families from this project joined us, to help us come up with a manifesto to take forward.

Most of the course participants are keen to continue their involvement with the Horniman by taking up volunteering opportunities here.

Through its objects and displays, the World Gallery will explore what it means to be human. One of our aims in creating the new gallery is to allow visitors to make connections between their own culture and other cultures.

It is very satisfying that, through engagement projects such as this one, we have enabled more families to do this and created a place that our ESOL community partners can continue to feel is theirs.

Domenico Sergi is the community engagement coordinator and project curator, anthropology, at the Horniman Museum and Gardens