Sensory Objects Enterprise - Co-Development and Start Up project

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Art


We aim to enhance the value and benefits of the award-winning AHRC-funded 'Sensory Objects' project. This enriched the experience of people with learning disabilities within museums and heritage sites through the development of sensory interactive objects.

Resulting from the Sensory Objects project we have the opportunity to work in partnership with the inclusive employment agency Jobs Enterprise and Training JET), to co-develop employment for people with learning disabilities as part of a training and sensory dialogue service that can help museums and heritage sites to realise more accessible and meaningful experiences for their visitors with learning disabilities.

We aim to create long-term sustainable employment for people with learning disabilities in museums and heritage and to help that sector achieve wider social and cultural inclusion by incorporating the understanding and working methods developed during the Sensory Objects Project. Our inclusive teams will use creative sensory approaches and multimedia to work with museum professionals. Our experience from the Sensory Object Project was that people with learning disabilities told us they felt respected and were able to communicate their ideas and museum professionals e.g. Kate Arnold-Forster Director of the Museum of English Rural Life during the Sensory Objects Seminar MERL 25.02.15 told us they were challenged to rethink their approaches to sensory engagement because of the Sensory Objects approach.

We will create a social business Sensory Objects Enterprise (SOE) that will provide an innovative set of services that can be provided to Museums and Heritage sites. The SOE will offer alternative approaches for dialogue with museum professionals, create alternative sensory interpretation of museum collections and encouraged greater awareness of the valuable contribution people with learning disabilities bring to the museum and heritage sector.

We will establish a viable and self-sustaining business vehicle to deliver this service and refine these into three distinct product offers:

1. Provision of Interactive Workshops direct to museum staff and/or co-delivered with staff to the local learning disability community.
2. Provision of Sensory Focus Groups that work in participatory and creative ways to engage disabled people to meaningfully review collections and curatorial approaches with museum staff and contractors.
3. Provision of Sensory Dialogues services to assist communication in the design and development of interactive exhibits. This model of product strand will be rehearsed through engagement of the team in partnership with a professional museum interactive production company

These will be co-produced and trialled in three pilot implementations with representative cultural organisations, The Ragged School London, MERL and The British Museum.
These will then be disseminated as publicity at the heart of a viable commercial package that will be the core outcome of the Follow-on Funding phase. This will constitute a service offer for the museum and heritage sector that we can take to market with confidence.

Planned Impact

The ultimate impact for the SOE will be continued and broader influence of the Sensory Object's methods on the Museum and Archive sector's approaches to accommodating and engaging people with learning disabilities. In the original project we aimed to leave a set of objects at each museum to improve their accessibility, but we learnt through the project that the most valuable and influential resource that we brought into this sector through our approach was the proactive interaction of people with learning disabilities with museum professionals and the public in creative and reflective co-production activity. The sensory objects we constructed served as tools for engagement. The multisensory and multimedia production processes we applied to the design, development, refinement and dissemination of Sensory Objects provided opportunities for cultural sites that were groundbreaking. The genuinely inclusive nature of the project teams, the workshop design and focus-group models that they demonstrated and the calibre of the intellectual dialogue that they afforded for Museum and Archive sites proved to be transformational. Our business aim and impact objective is to bring these innovative methods and fresh perspectives to all UK museums. We will provide opportunity for them to rethink their collections through our unique multimedia and multi-sensory approaches that can enable them to extend their audiences, visitors and makeover their interactive displays through activity driven by people with a learning disability, alongside specialist technologists and art practitioners.

Project outcomes include a sustainable business model of employment of people with LD in museums and heritage sites that has been tried and tested with prestigious representative clients with established reputation for innovation and a growing profile in the Heritage, MLA Sector. We will follow up with our clients at 6 and12 month intervals to ascertain their subsequent implementation of inclusive sensory approaches after they have used our services. This will enable us to measure and record impact on the museums culture of inclusion and maintain our customer relationship with clients. The impact for the apprentices will reflect in their subsequent progress on their route to employment. We anticipate that apprentices will move on to more traditional jobs after our apprenticeship pathways. We hope to follow their progress and see them working in the museums and heritage sector as well as media and creative industries with the sensory objects programme. Sensory Objects Enterprise will commission Mencap Liverpool's Access to Heritage, the specialist learning disability organisation will be commissioned to undertake a study on the effect on the museums with which we work and their opinions on inclusivity of museums. As part of our service we will invite Access to Heritage to carry out a pre-and-post survey for their inclusive approaches and strategies. We will trial and refine our impact evaluation strategy during our pilots.

Impacts include:
Demonstration of new pathways to employment for people with LD struggling to penetrate the labour market with pioneering models of inclusive working practice in Creative and Cultural industries.
Influence on inclusive design of public heritage and culture.
Advance state-of-the-art application of interactive and social media technologies for social inclusion, education and the widening of participation in public culture.
Develop new strategies for inclusive business and enterprise activity that can be captured and applied in other contexts, particularly in the creative industries.
Direct impacts for participating supported employees and apprentices with LD, for Museum and Heritage site visitors with disabilities and for members of the public whose awareness about disability and the potential contributions that people with disabilities can make to their communities and our society generally.


10 25 50
Title MERL Sensory Interactives 
Description purpleSTARS working with Reading College LLD/D dept have designed three sensory interactives funded by the Earley Charity. 1) A Virtual Reality Forest in collaboration with Dutch design company SHOSHO. 2) A Virtual Reality Quad Bike shepherd experience under production by purpleSTARS. 3) Horse and Sheep sound sensors underproduction by purpleSTARS 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Idea for Virtual Four Season Forest generated collaboration with Dutch Design company SHOSHO. Virtual quad bike experience for MERL led to purpleSTARS now in developing VR for Quad Bike experience and hardware for wheelchair users. 
Title TATE EXCHANGE Pop Up Sensory Museum 
Description Public invited to add an item to the purpleSTARS pop up sensory museum and create a sensory label all about it! purpleSTARS - The installation was based on Ilya and Emilia Kabakov work The man who never throw anything away. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Students from Reading College Learners with Difficulties and Disabilities Dept came to the TATE London for first ever visit. We have interest to create pop ups at Hackney Museum and St Pauls Cathedral. purpleSTARS did the first 10 talk in a paying exhibition at MERL. 
Description enterprise has been set up in June 2017 developed from the award-winning Sensory Objects (2012 - 2015), an arts-based research project that aimed to explore the possibilities of multi-sensory access to heritage. This project - funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - was intended to improve the accessibility of our cultural heritage for those with learning disabilities, helping them interpret British art and history by bringing its sounds, smells and textures to life.

Sensory Objects was led by a team of academic researchers from the University of Reading, and project partners included Rix Research @ UEL and co-researchers from the Liverpool Mencap Access to Heritage forum (A2H), Reading College Learners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Department and the Tower Project London. Consisting of visits to key heritage collections and several experimental workshops, our researchers explored new possibilities for interacting with, and responding to, exhibits.

This research underscored the need for accessible heritage interpretation developed with and by those with disabilities, and the benefits of their wider involvement in the sector.

purpleSTARS was created to fulfil this need, and is currently following these aims:

• To create sustainable employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities, in collaboration with artists and technologists.
• To create sensory experiences, using research from the Sensory Objects Project.
• To help museums understand the importance of a sensory perspective.
• To augment museum interpretation using the experience and expertise of people with learning disabilities, promoting enjoyable, inclusive and sensory museum experiences.
Exploitation Route purpleSTARS Bring together artists and technologists with and without learning difficulties/disabilities to transform museum experiences and make them really inclusive. We work collaboratively using sensory and digital media to create alternative interpretations of museum collections. The project aims to create sustainable opportunities for people with Learning Disabilities an example purpleSTARS to work with Glenside Hospital Museum Bristol in April 2018
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description We have set up enterprise, bringing together artists and technologists with and without learning difficulties/disabilities to transform museum experiences and make them really inclusive. We use sensory and digital media to create alternative interpretations of museum collections. We are currently collaborating and working with museums and galleries including the British Museum Wolfson Advisory Panel, the Museum of English Rural Life, The Ragged School Museum, Glenside Hospital Museum Bristol and Hackney Museum. Collaborating with Dutch Design company SHOSHO on a piece of VR and working with our Partner JET we have created job placements and work experience posts for people with Learning Disabilities.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Disability Cooperative Network Case Study
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Wolfson Advisory Panel at the British Museum
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Earley Charity Arts and Heritage
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Earley Charity 
Start 01/2018 
End 07/2018
Description Follow-on Funding Impact & Engagement: Sensory Objects Enterprise - Co-Development and Start Up project
Amount £100,764 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P007430/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 05/2018
Description Sensory Interactives for the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact purpleSTARS worked for 3 months with Reading College Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities Dept to design new interactive sensory objects for MERL. On 08.12.18 purpleSTARS and Reading College LLD/D presented three ideas to MERL Director, Curators, funders and public engagement staff. All three ideas were accepted and purpleSTARS are building two ideas and collaborating with Dutch designers SHOSHO to create the third.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description TATE 10 min TALK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact purpleSTARS Judith and Rufaro gave the first ever 10 Minute Talk in a paying exhibition in front of the the Kabakov exhibition at TATE MODERN 'The man who never throw anything away' telling about the connections between purpleSTARS ideas for their popup museum for Tate Exchange and the Kabakov exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
Description TATE EXCHANGE Pop Up Sensory Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of TATE EXCHANGE Reading Assembly, purpleSTARS invited the public to create and curate a pop up sensory museum. The work was based on an earlier pop up museum that was made as part of the Sensory Objects Research project. The purpleSTARS also invited the class from Reading College LLD/D to participate the class had never had gallery trip to London. Their teacher Jess Sanchia wrote "Thank YOU so much for inviting us. We had an amazing time - the whole day was the most rewarding I've ever had the fortune to be part of at college." We were also had interest to create a pop up museum at Hackney Museum and from St Pauls Cathedral.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Wolfson Advisory Panel British Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Sensory Objects enterprise purpleSTARS are part of the Wolfson Advisory Panel at the British Museum. The purpose of the panel is to explore different ways in which we can access the collection e.g. storytelling, music, discussion etc. Also, to consider practicalities like; how individuals learn about events that take place at Museums and Galleries; when might be the best time/day of the week for events; what challenges they might face in terms of access and how this can be addressed etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description purpleSTARS Developing Sensory Interactives for MERL Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two purpleSTARS volunteer placements from Tower Project London led Sensory Expeditions for 8 students from Reading College Learners with Learning difficulties/disabilities (LLD/D) dept at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) October- December 2017. Led to the design of 3 sensory interactives for MERL including two using Virtual Reality, collaboration with Dutch Design Company SHOSHO and further work experience position in development for a student at Reading College LLD/D dept at MERL
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017