This is ‘how to use digital tools to support collaboration’ guide was produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connected Heritage programme.
Lancashire Textiles Treasures is a collaborative project led by Gawthorpe Textiles Collection (GTC) in partnership with Super Slow Way (SSW) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). GTC is one of the largest textile collections in the country. Located near Burnley, GTC is an accredited museum and independent registered charity with a focus on education, wellbeing and the preservation of traditional craft skills.
For the past few years GTC has been developing its relationships with the University of Central Lancashire and with arts commissioning organisation Super Slow Way (curators of the British Textile Biennial) regarding closer working towards a textile centre of excellence based in Lancashire.
The Super Slow Way (SSW) is a cultural development programme based in East Lancashire. Founded in 2015 as one of Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places projects SSW have worked with their consortium partners over the last six years to develop programmes and projects to address the needs of local communities, and to enhance the cultural reputation of East Lancashire.
UCLan is one of the UK’s largest universities with a student and staff community approaching 38,000. Amongst its programme portfolio of some 400 undergraduate and 200+ postgraduate courses, the University has expertise in fashion and textiles, media and history and a thriving research culture in arts and heritage which has informed this project.
Our project uses the international collections of GTC and other museum collections and heritage organisations in Lancashire as a catalyst for engaging and upskilling our diverse local communities to build connections, share knowledge and skills to become digital community curators for a new online Lancashire Textile Gallery.
An improved digital resource is increasingly being recognised as a crucial component in ensuring the future sustainability of GTC. Building on recent successes in piloting digital content, this project has supported the development of a new digital presence for GTC, SSW and UCLan, creating a model for digital engagement with collections and representing a step change in the delivery of access to heritage within the region.
Who participated in the collaboration?
An important part of our project was a series of group sessions built around people developing skills for digital curation and object story telling. The project has worked with a wide range of community groups and participants, accessing existing contacts, connections and networks in different heritage venues across East Lancashire. We have worked with groups in Blackburn, Burnley and Pendle and linked our activities with the collections at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Queen Street Mill, the Haworth Art Gallery, Elmfield Hall and Lancashire Museum Service as well as GTC. We have connected with groups in community centres, libraries, refugee centres, in museums and in our own spaces. Participants have been primarily female, from diverse cultural backgrounds and age groups. Some groups were already well established, others were groups of strangers.
For communication with the participants, it was important to build relationships, share information and encourage collaboration. We use WhatsApp as a tool for communication in between in-person sessions.
Did you need to provide any special support to enable participants to collaborate?
No. Smart phones are now ubiquitous, and WhatsApp is a well-established tool that people already often use in their everyday lives to keep in touch with friends and family.
In our work with community groups we used WhatsApp as a tool for communication in preference to email, text or other methods. WhatsApp is a free tool that people can use via their smart phones or tablets.
- Introductions: In the first in-person meeting with the group we instigate introductions between members if they do not already know each other.
- Participants are asked if they are happy to join a WhatsApp group.
- Set up a WhatsApp group and invite participants to join.
- WhatsApp enables ongoing communication between meetings.
- We want the groups to share images and snippets of text, and this is much easier via WhatsApp than email or other digital communications.
- Communication: initial messaging tends to be functional – reminders about times of meetings or things to look up and research.
- The facilitator will also initiate other communications by sending links or pictures for the group to see.
- The group are tasked with an activity to share on WhatsApp e.g. ask everyone to send their most interesting picture from a museum visit that the group made that day.
- Gradually the group begin to post stories for each other to see such as information about exhibitions they are interested in, research they have done, articles they have read.
- People are encouraged to research, share their research with each other and discuss things in real time. Being able to share information immediately whilst out on-site visits and viewing collections helps to foster excitement about the project.
- The WhatsApp groups continued after the in-person groups had finished so communication continued, new friendships formed, and people continued to collaborate and share their research.
What were the wider outcomes?
The project has built a new online resource The Lancashire Textile Gallery which showcases some of the textile heritage of Lancashire to which the community group members have contributed through the community curation workshops.
Lack of confidence
Although WhatsApp is a popular tool that people now often use in their social lives, there will be a few participants who feel less confident about using this tool. Remember to take time to explain how it works to the group, check who hasn’t used it before and be prepared to run through it with individual participants in person before you send out invitations by phone to join.
For example, there was one group of participants with whom it was not suitable to use WhatsApp as a communication tool because they are a school group under 16 years old. The workshops took place in school time and the girls were not allowed phones in class. It was felt that phone communication between the participants and the officers and volunteers was not appropriate outside school.
Participant doesn’t have a mobile phone
Unfortunately, if this is the case, participants can still engage in the project but not using the WhatsApp communications. It is the workshop leader’s responsibility to ensure that they still receive all of the formal communications and updates through other methods, for example email.
Participant doesn’t have WhatsApp on their phone
This is easily solved. In our experience it is simple to download and other participants will often help out with doing this for anyone struggling in the group. This elicits conversation and interaction between participants.
Participant doesn’t want to join a WhatsApp group
It is important to give people the option to say no. As before, if this is the case, they can still engage in the project but not the WhatsApp communications. It is the workshop leader’s responsibility to ensure that they still receive all of the formal communications and updates through other methods, for example, email.
- Lancashire Textile Gallery
- Gawthorpe Textiles Collection
- Super Slow Way
- University of Central Lancashire
- X (formerly Twitter) @rbks_textiles
- Facebook @GawthorpeTextiles @superslowway @BritishTextileBiennial
- Instagram #gawthorpetextiles #superslowway #britishtextilebiennial
Please attribute as: "Using WhatsApp in a community engagement project (2023) by Lancashire Textile Treasures supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0