Happy and Green:  Workshops investigating the benefits to museum teams of a focus on wellbeing and sustainability

In September 2013 teams from seven museums gathered together at the fantastic Cinema Museum in Kennington to test out the business and wider benefits of sustainability and wellbeing in museum (and wider cultural) practice. Museum teams came from The Lightbox in Woking, London Transport Museum, Reading Museum, Ceredigion Museum, the Cinema Museum, the Mental Health Museum and the Museum of East Anglian Life.

The event built learning from the Happy Museum evaluation which asks where the synergies between social and environmental sustainability can be found and highlights opportunities to cultivate social and natural capital alongside the “cultural assets” of the museum’s collection. These include physical resources such as outdoor space, efficient use of natural resources, the role of volunteers and the benefits of a happy workforce.

It also built on previous work with Julie’s Bicycle bringing extensive experience in helping organisations across the arts and cultural sectors to reduce their environmental impacts. We also considered connections with the role of kindness and empathy in organisational contexts with People United.

The day started with an opportunity to review individual and organisational relationships with both wellbeing and sustainability – an exercise which threw up some interesting contrasts between levels of personal commitment and potential agency and empowerment to act in the workplace.

We then heard from Happy Museum and Julie’s Bicycle about the global challenge of climate change, the rationale for an approach that encompasses a focus on both sustainability and wellbeing and examples of similar development frameworks such as Bioregional One Planet Living and the Oxfam Sustainability Doughnut.

Using the Happy Museum principles as a focus for discussion we considered what museum practice could be under the following themes – hearing examples of good practice and generating new ideas.


Engaging emotions to create impact and wellbeing

Museums and galleries are often very good at sharing learning through their collections – but all too often these speak to the head rather than the heart. Many Happy Museum commissions have increased their impact (improved well-being of audiences and staff) by deliberately used the collection and museum space to engage emotions through play, humour, aesthetics, making / participation.


Smart use of resources / re-imagining resource use

By re-imagining use of resources, museums and galleries can become more efficient and at the same time have a positive impact (improved wellbeing) on audiences.


External relationships – empowering audiences, building partnerships

It is easy for museums and galleries to look inward, focus on their collections and spaces, and be tied up in their own issues. Directing energy externally, by seeking to engage and empower audiences / local community, and developing external partnerships can be transformative.

Empowering the individual, empowering teams

Museums and galleries depend on their people – staff, volunteers, trustees. When money and resources are scarce, wellbeing within an organisation often suffers. Redefining roles and relationships within an organisation can be transformative – making better use of people’s skills and interests, which can impact on audiences and even the bottom line.


Plan, develop and measure what matters

We pay attention to what we measure. The measurable outcomes defined for a project or an organisation inevitably shape that project or organisation. Happy Museum thinking proposes using wellbeing and other alternative measures for evaluation, planning and development. These can lead to broader benefits.

Following lunch we heard a fantastic and inspirational presentation from Feimatta Conteh of the Arcola Theatre where their groundbreaking approach puts sustainability as part of its core business, aiming to be the world’s first carbon neutral theatre.

Following all this discussion and inspiration the participants gathered in museum teams to draw up an action plan for their institution – they then paired with another museum team to peer review each other’s plan. Some fantastic projects were developed including a Peace Garden, a workplace wellbeing plan and a major green audit of a museum site.

In addition many simple and replicable ideas were shared – for example:

Reduce rubbish bought in by schools – give schools an incentive (TBC) to leave the least amount of rubbish when they come on school trips here. Hopefully this will reduce our use of bin bags too.

Organise a Pay it Forward Campaign for staff: this could be over a month and would just involve you doing something kind for a colleague – you then have to pay the act of kindness on!

Put a sign up (branded Happy Museum) asking visitors whether they could take the stairs rather than use the lift to reduce our carbon footprint along with a simple explanation.

Ask Parks if we could create a Museum and town hall flower bed. We would take turns looking after it (again to increase staff wellbeing, work cross council etc..). This could have an ecological aim i.e. A Bee garden that we would use with families and possibly school children.

Encourage staff to have lunch away from their desks – anyway a 20 minute break every 4 hours maximum by law. Hold walking meetings, (as opposed to in building)

Hold some staff meeting on Open Space basis, where staff choose group topics for discussion or have internal staff speed datings on elements of their work.

A Second workshop was held in March 2015 at Derby Museum – where the teams gathered again to discuss what happened in the intervening months, share successes and challenges and renew inspiration.

Here are Happy-and-Green-notes-from-the-day and links to additional materials can be found below.

“The Wellbeing and Resilience Paradox”, by Nina Mguni, Nicola Bacon and John F. Brown

“Taking the Temperature of Local Communities: The Wellbeing and Resilience Measure (WARM)”, by Nina Mguni and Nicola Bacon, Local Wellbeing Project

“Generic Social Outcomes Indicator Bank: For Museums, Libraries & Archives

“Environmental Impact Assessment: Guide to Procedures”

“Defra – Behaviours Report”

“Who Cares? Museums, Health and Wellbeing”

The Science and Art of Promoting Health



Valuation Techniques for Social Cost Benefit Analysis

The State of Happiness: Can Public Policy Shape People’s Wellbeing  and Resilience?

Measuring_our_Progress: The Power of Well-being