Special Projects

Resources for families with children on the autistic spectrum

Since 2014, we have been working with the Museum of Natural History to develop resources to help families with children on the autistic spectrum become independent visitors to the museum. There are two guides: About the Museum, which includes lots of descriptive information about the museum and displays, and Planning your Visit, which is a tool to prepare children for their visit and give them objects to look at for when they are here.


Child engaging with stuffed badger


Dancing and movement from around the world

Over 12 weeks, 8 adults with learning disabilities used the objects and specimens to inspire movement and dance. The weekly course took place on the Museum of Natural History and used handling collections to create dynamic actions around the themes of Egypt, South American street carnivals and thefood chain and create a soundtrack using the Ugandan Xylophone.

The group created all their own music, video performances, costunes, masks and images which were all used in the final performance to family and friends. A dance tutor and adult learning tutor from Oxfordshire Learning and Skills Service supported the group with their movement and sounds and gathered evidence to ensure everyone gained an accredited ASDAN qualification.

Community group dance project


The History of Medicine

The strapline on the poster was “It’s not all blood and guts (but quite a lot of it is!)”, and from mummies to magic, plants to plasters, and toads to toilets, participants on a recent six-week course got up close (and often hands-on) with all sorts of ‘medical’ objects.

Five of the sessions took place at MIND at the Mill in East Oxford, where members explored the themes of Ancient Medicine, Magical Medicine, Medical Plants, Medical Animals, and Modern Medicine. They then visited the Museum of the History of Science to look at evidence of 17th century anatomy lessons, as well as an early X-ray machine used for fun and games, drug jars used to hold everything from rose syrup to earthworm oil, and the biscuit tins and bed pans used to grow penicillin during the Second World War.


Adult learning session


Small Blessings

As part of a project to catalogue a large collection of amulets and charms at the Pitt Rivers Museum, a group from MIND at the Mill were given the chance to create their own personal responses to the collection.

The six-week project involved working with local artist, Emma Reynard, to produce their own amulets using a wide range of materials and techniques. The group was given behind-the-scenes access to the collection and the chance to talk to the researchers and conservators involved in the project.

The work produced by the group is now on display on the top floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum, alongside some examples of the charms that inspired their work. More information about the Small Blessings project can be found on the Small Blessings blog.


Outreach session with local community group


Tales from Home

This project involved parents and children from St Leonards and Hillview Schools working together to write and perform their own plays, with support and guidance from the University Museums, Oxfordshire County Council Family Learning, and Cherwell Theatre Company. 

In the first session, parents and children used objects from the University Museums as inspiration for their stories. Over the next 12 weeks, these stories were then turned into plays for which they wrote the scripts, designed and made scenery and costumes, organised the stage directions, and helped with publicity. The plays were then performed on 29th February 2012 at the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury to an audience of over 70 people.


Community outreach session


The Ultimate Olympics

This collaborative project between Oxfordshire County Council Adult Learning, the University Museums, and the Museum of Oxford involved engaging with a group of adults with learning disabilities to compare human sporting achievements in running, jumping, and strength with those of the animal kingdom. Following their investigations, they worked with local artist, Dionne Barber, to produce a set of mini sculptures to be displayed at the Museum of Oxford, as well as a larger, abstract sculpture to be displayed in the Cast Gallery at the Ashmolean.


Adult learning session


Heritage in Hospitals

The Heritage and Hospitals project built on existing relationships with a number of healthcare organisations. The University Museums were involved in an AHRC funded project led by UCL, which conducted research in to the effect of handling museum objects on hospital patients’ wellbeing.

The majority of our part of the research took place at the Oxford Centre for Enablement and involved having one-to-one sessions with patients. The patients were asked to complete mood questionnaires devised by  researchers at UCL both before and after the session. These quantitative measures were then used to support evidence of a relationship between museum object handling and an increased sense of wellbeing.


Adult learning session



Sensing Culture

We are currently working in partnership with the RNIB to improve access for blind and partially sighted visitors to the four Oxford University Museums. 

What the project involves:

1. Focus Group 

We are working with a focus group of local blind and partially sighted people to gather feedback on all aspects of the project. 

2. Staff Training and ‘Meet the Museum’ toolkits 

Front of House staff and volunteers will receive training to improve awareness of issues confronting people with sight loss. They will also be trained to explain and offer new orientation tools.


Visitor using raised image to engage with visual art

These tools will include large print guides, tactile maps, and self-led, audio described introductions to each museum, available on ‘discovery pens’. (For now, you can listen to an audio described introduction to the Museum of Natural History here.)

3. Monthly Bookable Touch Tours

These audio described tours are led by trained Museum staff and include object handling opportunities.

4. Audio Description on Request

Every volunteer tour guide will receive audio description training, with the aim that from 2017 any blind or partially sighted visitor could request audio description as part of an advertised guided tour, rather than having to be part of a special programme.  

Find out more about the project and what we have already been doing on our blog

The HLF-funded project involves five museum partners in the South East and ran September 2015 - July 2017.



Community Events

Each year, we take the Museums and Collections out in to the local community to support events such as the Cowley Carnival. If you have a community event that you would like to discuss with the Outreach Service, please contact us by email outreach@oum.ox.ac.uk or telephone 01865 282456.



Group participating in family activity at Cowley Road Carnival