South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Conference blog: The tactile and the creative - a new way of engaging people with church spaces

This blog post is the second in a series of posts that share knowledge from the South West Fed Conference ‘Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away’. Here, Theo Platt shares key points from Annie Lucus’ presentation ‘The tactile and the creative - a new way of engaging people with church spaces’.

Annie Lucas’ presentation reflected on her project ‘Sacred Lands, Saints and Sand’ at St Cubert Church in Cornwall. It was a one year HLF-funded project in St Cubert Church, North Cornwall, and was recently awarded a Cornwall Heritage Award for Best Audience Initiative. It provided ‘non-churchy’ opportunities for new audiences to experience the church through hands on interaction and to learn a new skill. Annie’s presentation explored how the project worked with artist practitioners to develop tactile and sensory workshops, including stained glass-making and stone carving. It showed how the products from these workshops were included in a new handling box which was used in memory cafes and old folks’ homes to facilitate a church experience for people less able to access the space.

One of the challenges in engaging people with church spaces, as Annie pointed out, is that a church space can feel exclusive even though that is not the ethos of the church organisation. Church spaces present plenty of potential to inspire people, so there are many opportunities to run activities that can change people’s perceptions of church spaces as ‘exclusive’. Churches can learn a lot from museums to engage people and respond to different audiences’ needs. The future of many churches lies in viewing them as heritage assets, not just places of worship.

Annie highlighted that ‘the brilliant thing about church spaces is that you can touch everything’ - they are full of artwork, and are creative, artisan spaces. This makes them natural places for mixed media workshops as participants expand to the building. Accordingly, there is a fantastic opportunity to provide creative activities in an inspiring, spiritual venue.

One of the outcomes of the workshops that Annie organised was the creation of a collection which could be taken out beyond the church. This is crucial when you have an inaccessible site, or want to engage with people who don’t feel compelled to visit.

Theo Platt is the South West Fed Meetings Secretary (Forums). Theo is also Head of Development & Communications at Gloucester Cathedral. Annie Lucas has been immersed in the cultural and heritage sectors for nearly 20 years. Following a period designing costumes for ballet and theatre, Annie graduated in 2008 with a Masters in Costume Design from the London College of Fashion. In 2008 she was appointed Interpretation Manager at Rochester Cathedral following a successful HLF grant application, and wrote the exhibition and interpretation strategy for the second HLF grant (£3.5 million) in 2012.

After a relocation to the West Country, she has worked extensively as a freelance consultant undertaking numerous audience development, interpretation and evaluation assignments and strategic plans for clients across the country. She has an established track record for innovative audience development projects, and runs her own heritage consultancy, Cultural Vitality, with a special interest in projects which facilitate access for people with full or partial sight loss.