Wentworth Castle Gardens near Barnsley is relatively new to the National Trust's property portfolio, managed in partnership with Barnsley Council and Northern College. The Trust is working with Barnsley Museums, Northern College and a range of community partners to welcome new audiences to the site and work with local people who wouldn't otherwise visit. I worked with the National Trust during 2022 to evaluate the impact of their 'Everyone Welcome' community partners programme and better understand the difference it was making both to the Trust and to the people involed.
Rather than adopting the traditional approach to museum evaluation - creating an evaluation framework and devising ways of finding out whether we meet pre-determined outcomes - we decided to work differently by co-producing our evaluation methods with partners and participants. I began by having a range of conversations with partners about how they go about measuring impact, what methods they use, what participants are comfortable with and what happens to the resulting feedback. As a result we worked with People's Voice Media and Barnsley Museums to explore the Community Reporter methodology and experiment with using it in evaluation. Community Reporting is based on lived experience storytelling and focuses on people's own experiences of working with the National Trust. It involves having open conversations with participants led by their own priorities, rather than asking questions based on what we think should happen.
It's a mindset shift for me - as an evaluator I'm so used to shaping conversations based on what clients want to know - but it's been refreshing to try out a different approach and we've had some fascinating conversations as a result. We learned a lot about what people need from the National Trust and what they think is special about the site. We were also able to identify some of the barriers people encounter when trying to work with the National Trust - some of them are obvious, some less so. My report to the Trust focused on what we know about the benefits people experience from visiting Wentworth Castle Gardens and some practical recommendations for what needs to change to enable a broader diversity of people to experience the gardens in future.