Leeds City Museum encourages youngsters to make their mark on culture by ‘chatting up a pensioner’

A Leeds museum is breaking down barriers with age by empowering young people as part of a new initiative.

Sunday, 30th May 2021, 6:00 am
Esther Amis-Hughes, youth engagement officer at Leeds City Museum runs The Preservative Party (photo: James Hardisty)

The youth engagement officer at Leeds City Museum is working with youngsters in Leeds, in a bid to show them how much they have in common with older people in the city.

Esther Amis-Hughes runs The Preservative Party at the museum which is a group of young volunteers aged 14 to 24.

They meet each week and work together to curate displays, events and exhibitions about issues that they think are most important.

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Esther Amis-Hughes and the Open Minds - Mental Health exhibition in Leeds, curated by The Preservative Party (photo: James Hardisty)

The youngsters’ most recent idea is to set up a speed dating programme with the elderly at the museum, plausibly dubbed ‘chatting up a pensioner’.

It follows the regular Zoom meetings which took place between the young people and the older generation during lockdown - where the ‘world was put to rights’ through conversation.

Ms Amis-Huges has praised the group for being a ‘barrel running down a hill’ with their recent ideas to encourage intergenerational relationships and said that lockdown has reiterated the importance of this community outreach.

She told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The Preservative Party was supposed to be doing an exhibition all about mental health but this was stopped around two weeks before because of lockdown.

“Instead, our young people decided to do animations about isolation and body image which is pretty intense and was pretty tough in lockdown so it was really brave of them.

“They could really draw on how they felt themselves in isolation and the experience of being in lockdown made the members and myself even more determined to work with other groups.

“We don’t want to be insular and we don’t want to have navel-gaze but instead put our money where our mouth is and use the interest in the museum to attract others.

“Our youngsters started working with Age Friendly Leeds ambassadors and that’s when the regular video meetings began.

“Now they’ve realised that they have an awful lot in common with each other because both the younger and older generations experience ageism and so they want to do more to stop that.”

Ms Amis-Hughes is all about promoting Leeds City Museum as a place available to everyone, and says it is crucial that young people are a part of this.

She added: “Museums are for everybody and everybody in Leeds who comes to our museum needs to look in the gallery and see themselves in there.

“Young people in particular have got to play a part in telling those stories and putting their own perspective on stories.

“We need to address that we are for everybody and it’s so important that we listen to that young voice and give it a platform.

“Like with the recent mental health campaign - our young people flagged what an important issue it is today and that because it wasn’t in the museum, they wanted to tell that story.

“They have a really unique perspective and as a society I’m not sure we listen enough to children and the youth voice about what’s happening.”

The Preservative Party was still able to meet weekly by using Zoom during lockdown, and according to Ms Amis-Hughes, it was this which has helped her role to become more redundant - in a good way.

She said: “Me being redundant is actually the best possible outcome in this case.

“If these young people can do my job for me and do community outreach then it’s wonderful.

“What lockdown has shown me is that even though before I was paid by the museum and worked there, there was an imbalance of power.

“When lockdown had happened, all of that was removed because we had to become more democratic in youth work and we had no choice but to work with young people in the way they wanted to work.

“The Preservative Party continued to meet on Zoom every week and we as a museum responded much more to what the young people were interested in so it forced my hand to be more responsive.

“Lockdown has helped to show how much the museum means to these young people.”

Ms Amis-Hughes now wants to close the generational gap between 13 and 28 year olds that might not feel as though museums are places for them.

She added: “Everyone’s voice needs to be heard but the cynic in me would say that if we don’t show young people how important museums are now then they won’t visit later on.

“I believe in co-production and co-curation so in my practise I believe that I’m giving young people an opportunity to make decisions about how THEIR museum is run.”

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