Supporting families during the cost of living crisis

Supporting families during the cost of living crisis

By Kids in Museums


Kids in Museums outline how you can create a generous and welcoming offer for all families, children and young people in the face of the rising cost of living. Aimed at those working in the museum sector but lots of advice that applies to many venues.

A free day out at a museum may be one of the only days out open to many families this winter (2022/2023), so museums should consider how they can make a family day out as comfortable as possible.

The cost of days out is rising, as outlined in this Mirror article. Recent data from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) shows that 49% of households with children likely to be making cutbacks to day trips and 33% less likely to visit paid attractions.

We Will Thrive also points to a decrease in consumer confidence and cut-backs on cultural visits as people consider value for money even more than usual.

According to research from Yorkshire Building Society, more than 93% of 11 to 18 year olds are aware of the cost-of-living crisis, while 61% in this age group worry about their parents or guardians not having enough money for them to do what they want or have what they need.

Based on the six points of our Kids in Museums Manifesto, this guide sets out how you can enhance your offer to support your community and how to communicate this to the families that need it the most.

1. Be welcoming

Invite families in to keep warm if they have no other access to warm spaces, just as National Museums Liverpool has done. Ensure that all staff are aware that people may be visiting to stay warm and enable them to comfortably spend time in your space.

Some councils, such as Gateshead Council, are creating networks of ‘warm spaces’ in their local area. Find out if your local council is doing something similar and how you can list your venue, if you are able (this Guardian article outlines some of the challenges for museums). CILIP have produced a guide to setting up warm spaces in your community.

Train staff to be able to signpost to other local organisations for people who need support. Most local councils have directories of services for families and of local voluntary and community organisations. The Mix UK has a free searchable directory of local services for young people and Homeless Link has a database of housing and homelessness services in England.

2. Be accessible to all

Raising a child with a disability is already more expensive than raising a child with no disability or long-term illness, as outlined on the Scope website. The increased cost of living is going to affect families where a member has a disability particularly hard.

Think about what you offer for families with a child with a disability. If the activity isn’t already free, can you make it free this winter or lower the cost?

Many SEND families benefitted from the emphasis on digital activities provided by museums during lockdown, so some museums, like Barnsley Museums, have continued to share free crafts, stories and recipes to help visitors experience the museum from home.

3. Make it easy and comfortable

Make sure you have plenty of seating that is comfy for families to take a break. If you can, offer free WiFi.

If you have spare clothes in lost property, make them available if a child is travel sick on the way to the museum or has an accident during a visit.

Offer spare nappies, wipes and sanitary products as part of a ‘caught short box’. London Museum of Water and Steam promotes a spares box on their website.

If you have a café, can you do an offer on hot food for children over the winter? The Barbican Kitchen has a kids under 12 eat for free offer. Can you put aside a room so that families have somewhere indoors to eat their own food if they can’t afford to eat at a café? Read our Museums Cafés resource about what families want from a picnic area.

You could also consider holding events themed around food and cooking, such as these family cooking and gardening courses at St Fagans National Museum of History.

4. Remember that families come in all shapes and sizes

If you charge for admission, can you review your ticketing? Museum and galleries have been urged to sign up for a VAT refund to support free entry to the public. Can you consider giving anyone who buys a family ticket or equivalent annual admission this winter? Read our guide to flexible family ticket guidelines for ideas on creating flexible ticketing that works for different groups.

Through the Let’s Do London campaign, the Mayor of London and Art Fund are partnering to offer a special three-month National Art Pass to provide free or reduced price entry to 600 museum or gallery exhibitions.

London Transport Museum offers £1 entry tickets for people on Universal Credit and Pension Credit. This Londonist article shares other London museums that are discounted or free entry to people who are unemployed or on Universal Credit.

You could set up a ‘Pay it Forward’ scheme to fund family days out where they can’t afford the ticket prices. This American museum enables donations for Pay it Forward admission on its website.

Some museums have given out tickets or vouchers for activities to local foodbanks, such as the Shire Hall Museum in Dorset.  If you do this, think about offering a full day of activities so that families aren’t spending a lot on travel for a short visit.

5. Communicate well

Clearly outline your offer to families, children and young people on your website this winter. Use our family web page template to create a dedicated page for families where they can find all the information they need. The London Museum of Water and Steam has a guide to top five things for each age group on its website, which is a great example.

List what your museum has available for families, such as:

  • warm space
  • free activities
  • indoor space to eat lunch
  • free tap water refills
  • breastfeeding friendly
  • ‘caught short’ boxes.

Reinforce this offer regularly on your social media channels to increase awareness.

If you offer free admission, consider making some simple flyers and give them to local food banks and other community organisations so they can distribute them to families you might not otherwise reach. Make sure the flyers clearly show that families will be welcomed over the winter and there is plenty to do for free.

If you are a paid attraction, ALVA research illustrated there is a perception that paid attractions are getting more expensive, so think about how you can communicate why your venue is value for money.

6. Be an active part of your community

Build partnerships with local community organisations, even if you haven’t worked with them before. The Museum of Homelessness sees its role to provide practical, direct action to those who are or are at risk of homelessness. The Florence Nightingale Museum in London is working with a nursing foundation to offer targeted support to those in hardship, as described in this Museums Association article (paywall). Colchester and Ipswich Museums held a free week-long series of events at the Ipswich Jobcentre Plus for customers and their families.

Provide space for community groups or services, but make sure you don’t duplicate provision that already exists. For example, the London Museum of Water and Steam hosts community advice sessions in their café every Thursday morning.

Support a local food bank or beauty bank by acting as a drop-in centre or setting up a collection point. The Museum of the Home hosts Hackney Foodbank every Monday when it is closed to the public. Rochdale Pioneers Museum collaborated with local partners to develop a community food share scheme called The Pioneer Pantry.

If you create a new display or exhibition, can you include a donation box for local charities?

Can you offer free supported days out for local organisations, like refuges or homelessness organisations? Make sure that you offer simple refreshments at the end of the visit.

Can you partner with other local cultural sites to enhance access to your venues? For example, the Science and Industry Museum and The Lowry were two partners of ‘We Invented the Weekend‘ in Salford, a free festival held in response to the cost of living crisis and its impact on spending on culture.

As museums did during the pandemic, can you sensitively collect the experiences of families, children and young people in your local area this winter? Check out the Story of Place exhibition, which was displayed at Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum, for a great example.

What else can we do?

As a museum professional, you can:

Browse by learning pillars
Audience Development & Strategy
Resource type: Guide/tools | Published: 2023