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Exeter’s museum brings mindfulness to the galleries with new audio guide

Created with students and tutors from the Devon Recovery Learning Community, the guide helps visitors to enjoy a meditative journey around the museum.

Exeter City Council’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) partnered with Devon Recovery Learning Community (DRLC), a Recovery College of Devon Partnership NHS Trust, to produce the 10-track guide. Designed to enrich visitors’ experience of the museum and its collections, the guide encourages us to use our senses while paying close attention to the spaces, sounds, exhibits and objects encountered in RAMM’s galleries.

Mindfulness is the process of paying more attention to the present; by practising mindfulness techniques, a person can learn to slow their thoughts and connect with the moment. Mindfulness can be beneficial for mental health and help to ease stress, as well as improving physical health such as lowering blood pressure and a reducing chronic pain.

RAMM collaborated with tutors from DRLC (Devon Recovery Learning Community) to run a series of 5 sessions with students who access the DRLC curriculum and courses and who have experienced mental health challenges. Through the sessions the tutors and students developed a programme of mindfulness practices inspired by and reacting to RAMM’s spaces and collections. The resulting activities were then recorded as the audio guide. In response to feedback from the students as they developed the activities, the activities are open ended and visitors are encouraged to choose whichever spaces in the museum feel most comfortable to them.

The guides offer the option to listen to either a male or female narrator; listeners may choose one narrator, or may decide to alternate between the two. With titles such as ‘arriving’, ‘wandering mindfully’ and ‘pausing’, each track is intended to accompany a different stage of the visit, and offers simple and interesting ways of directing awareness to what is happening around us.

Some listeners may choose to listen to the whole guide in one visit, others may experience the guide across multiple visits, choosing a different focus each time. Listeners can go at their own pace, pausing, reflecting and returning to the resource depending on how they feel.

DRLC manager Caroline Nicholson said:

‘The DRLC was delighted to be asked by RAMM to collaborate on this project to develop mindful audio guides to introduce visitors to new ways to learn how to engage with the museum space as a setting that can be so much more than just a house of art. Museums and their collections hold great potential to help us slow down, reflect, take time to think about connecting with our selves, with others, the space we occupy and travel through, and of course the objects and artefacts in the museum’s collections themselves.

This project embraces an ethos of co-production that includes bringing together the voices of people with lived experience of mental health challenges, mental health practitioners, and experts in the practice and techniques of Mindfulness. The result is one that is relevant and genuine, which helps to shed light also on the valuable role museums have to play in offering us places of peace and refuge, meaning and connection, and thoughtful reflection for mental health.’

RAMM’s previous engagement officer Ellie Coleman, who managed production of the audio guide, said:

‘This guide is a great resource for us here at RAMM, and we’re grateful to DRLC, their tutors, and students for collaborating with us to produce it. The guide has not only created an alternative way of looking at our collections, but allows us to provide a safe and peaceful space for people who may be facing mental health challenges, or those who are simply looking for a moment of calm and connection.’

RAMM is grateful to Art Fund for supporting this project.

The audio guides can be accessed at rammuseum.org.uk/mindful-audio-guide

Museum entry is free.