Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills: Living in a digital world through lockdown

Throughout the difficulties of the pandemic, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills has joined the rest of the world in adapting to a life where digital connections are imperative.

Sunday, 18th April 2021, 6:00 am
John McGoldrick, curator of industrial history at Leeds Museums

For some, living primarily digitally has been challenging, while others it has largely been a success.

But for many in Leeds, it has been a mixture of the two.

And it has been a case of the latter for the team at Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills who have “ramped up” their online offering over the past year, in order to engage with new audiences and remind Leeds that they’re still there and eagerly-awaiting reopening.

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John McGoldrick works mainly at Armley Mills, but like many others, has had to change his role to become more digitally focused through the pandemic.

The curator of industrial history at Leeds Museums, John McGoldrick, tells of how he hopes the end result of their online challenges and successes will be a much broader audience for the museum in the future.

He said: “Like many others, I’ve had to have a bit of a role change and our team has all started doing more online.

“We’ve found a whole new platform in Google Arts & Culture where we can put collections online, we’ve been posting more on social media and we’ve been blogging on lots of different aspects of the collections we have which has proved to be really popular.

“At Armley Mills we did have an online presence before, and it was a strand of what we did, but we’ve really had to ramp that up.

John hopes lockdown will broaden the audiences at the museum in the future

“People have asked the question though that if things are online now, will we still get people into the museum but I think we’re long past that question. People like instant digital access but they still like to follow things up and see them in the flesh.

“Armley Mills has a really distinctive atmosphere inside the building and in the beautiful gardens which are tended to by community volunteers and you just can’t get that feel online.

“We do think now though that we will attract a more broader audience when we reopen because of the newer people we’ve been able to reach out to across different online platforms.”

Mr McGoldrick said that the industrial audience has in the past been predominantly an older, male demographic, but that a newly-found educational focus on giving virtual talks to schools and families will hopefully start to change its appeal.

He added: “We’ve had a lot of uptake on our educational offer where our education officer has spoken to schools and family groups about collections, including one or two about industrial history specifically which have been really popular and have almost got a following of their own.

“Of course it’s been challenging to actually remind people that we are still here, so it’s been mainly about maintaining visibility and presence and ensuring people don’t forget us, and I think we’ve been doing that really well.

“We’ve used different platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to reach new people, along with offering virtual collection visits on our website.”

While it is hoped that the museum will attract more visitors in the future, Mr McGoldrick reiterates the importance of still keeping an online presence for Armley Mills when it does reopen - to work alongside the in-person interaction that will then be available.

He said: “People expect an online presence these days so they’re going to continue to expect to be able to see collections online and we are working on getting as many of these online as possible for the future.

“They want a decent amount of information and they want to know what it’s actually like to visit the museum so we’re doing lots of good work on that in the background.”

Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills has plans for some bigger, in-person events later in the year, including Trains, Trains, Trains at the end of August and Print Fest in November.

Mr McGoldrick said that lockdown has given the museum a chance to review what’s important to people and where their priorities lie - including the promotion of Leeds as a city to visit.

He said: “This has been our chance to look at our collections with a fresh eye and mind because people’s priorities have changed since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re determined to maintain and make sure we are a top thumping ground for Leeds while promoting Leeds as a great place to come and visit.

“The importance of Leeds is sometimes sat in shadow but we want to make it known what an important centre it was, and still is for industrial history, innovation and engineering.”