Sam Bowen, a museum professional and special needs mum, has been recognised as a Radical Changemaker at the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives Awards 2021.

Only after having my daughter Lucy, who is disabled, did I realise how inaccessible most museums are to children with SEND

Sam Bowen

The Radical Changemaker award, one of four Museums Change Lives awards, recognises the achievements of an individual in promoting one or more of the themes of the Museums Change Lives campaign: Promoting Health and Wellbeing, Creating Better Places, and Inspiring Engagement, Reflection and Debate.

Campaigner for inclusion of SEND children in museums

Sam is a Museum Development Officer for Southeast Museums Development and is also a campaigner and activist for the inclusion of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in museums.

Since 2017, she has run partnership projects across the Southeast of England, linking museums with special needs learning groups. Sam runs training courses for museums across the UK on how to support children with SEND and has also written the Special Schools and Museums toolkit, the only sector guidance on this topic.

In December 2020, Sam was awarded a project grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England to create an advice website for museums, this along with a SEND family guide to museums and an advocacy film, will help museums to develop better understanding and build relationships with this new audience.

Worked tirelessly to raise awareness

She says that despite some people raising doubts about whether there was an audience in the sector that had time to focus on SEND children, she has worked tirelessly to raise the awareness of children with SEND and how important their access to culture is.

Through her work she has turned the perception of ‘learning’ in museums on its head and shown how inclusive engagement benefits all visitors and the museums themselves.

“I’ve worked in the museum sector for two decades but only after having my daughter Lucy, who is disabled, did I realise how inaccessible most museums are to children with SEND. I set out to change this and prove that not only are museums for everyone, but that the sector in these uncertain times, can benefit from this audience in helping to secure museum’s futures as community spaces of wellbeing and inclusion.”

Award recognises SEND children matter to museums

She says winning the award is not just a huge achievement for her personally, but it recognises that the 8% of the UK child population with SEND matter to museums.

“2020 was a turning point where people saw the isolation many families with SEND children face My own child has complex needs and requires 24-hour care but visiting museums and galleries provides an enriched setting away from the home to share new experiences and build memories.

“To families like ours, this is invaluable and supports wellbeing and health. It is why, despite facing my own daily challenges, I am passionate about supporting others and making a difference in any way I can. Museums can and do change lives and the lives of SEND children and their families should be able to benefit from them equally.”

This year’s awards took place in Liverpool on Monday 8 November as part of the Museums Association’s annual conference.

Sam’s website: will go live at the end of the year.

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