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How Mansfield Museum became Better by Change for disabled people

Kieron Norton with his parents, Andrew and Sharon Norton.

An exhibition at Mansfield Museum is marking the culmination of a major two-year project to improve the way disabled people are represented at the attraction.

The Better by Change Project was awarded £229,271 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NHLF) and during the past two years, has been involved in supporting disabled people in the workplace and encouraging more disabled people to visit the venue and engage with its collections and exhibitions.

The Better by Change exhibition is timed to coincide with OneFest, an annual week-long arts and culture festival in Mansfield between 11 and 17 July that that aims to celebrate and showcase learning disabled and autistic people.

The exhibition at Mansfield Museum runs until Saturday 20 July. The exhibition features oral histories from local people in the disability community, case studies, an immersive projection experience, sensory toys and displays from local charities.  

Among the disabled people whose experiences are featured is Kieron Norton, a 24-year-old from Mansfield who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

A video of his oral history that features in the exhibition can be found on Vimeo at BBC Kieron, Sharon & Andrew on Vimeo.

His father, Andrew Norton, said: “Kieron and the whole family were thrilled to be invited to participate in this exhibition and to share our story. Kieron almost bounced out of his wheelchair!”

The family feature in a video at the exhibition and describe what life is like for Kieron who was not expected to survive after being was born prematurely at 24 weeks and weighing just 1lb 5oz (595g).

“Kieron has difficulties, but he is an incredibly bright lad and an inspiration – he just thinks ‘the world won’t stop me’ and his ability to rock on with life is amazing.

“If the exhibition helps just one other person or family in similar circumstances, that will be brilliant. It was a privilege to be asked to be involved and the museum team have been absolutely fantastic – our section even had us in tears.

“We had a sneak preview of the whole exhibition - it is brilliant and so thought provoking.”

Other oral histories feature Julie Bagshaw, a theatre practitioner, who works at Mansfield’s Palace Theatre and is living with the chronic illness fibromyalgia, and Keith and Shirley Crump, from Mansfield Woodhouse, who have been married for over 60 years. They talk about Keith’s diagnosis of dementia and how they became alerted to his memory difficulties.

Cllr Stuart Richardson, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and Growth, added: “We have been very proud to lead the Better by Change Project for the past two years.

“It has been an important and far-reaching project. People within the disabled and neurodiversity community can often feel forgotten and excluded. It is projects such as this that help to overcome these issues and open up more opportunities to people in this community to integrate and achieve their full potential for learning, participation and enjoyment.

“This should help to make an improvement to the quality of life in Mansfield, not just for disabled people and their immediate families but for the wider community, too.

 “The feedback we have had from this project has been superb and it is clear that it has been well appreciated. And the project does not end here. This is part of Mansfield Museum’s ongoing work to drive greater inclusivity through its collections and outreach work.

As part of the project, a number of employees were enrolled by the council on 12-month fixed-term contract posts exclusively for disabled candidates.

Better by Change has worked closed with a number of partners including: Disability Notts, Unamina, part of OneFest, Portland College. The results of Better by Change will now be independently evaluated to ensure a legacy of learning can be shared locally and nationally.

Among the main achievements have been:

  • A programme of events and workshops exploring and celebrating disability. One showcased work created by internationally acclaimed disabled artist Jason Wilsher-Mills.
  • Installing a new Changing Place toilet facility at the museum to make it easier for adults with disabilities to visit. This was supported by a successful government funding bid. 
  • Making the museum more accessible for people with disabilities. It is making a series of adaptations, including installing new lighting and signage.
  • Finding ways to reach more diverse audiences
  • Training all the museum staff in disability awareness.
  • The project has offered work to 17 people over two years in an inclusive recruitment process, some of whom have now secured permanent jobs with the council.

In terms of how Better by Change aligned with council strategies, the project achieved various objectives, including creating and communicating a positive image of the Mansfield district and improving the town centre and cultural experiences for residents, visitors and businesses. It also helped create community pride and employment.

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