by Dr. Rebekah Wood – Outreach Education Project Manager for the National Justice Museum.
A leader in public legal education, the National Justice Museum delivers stimulating learning programmes in real courtrooms across Nottingham, London and the North West, including at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and the Greater Manchester Police Museum.
With a strong focus on community engagement and empowerment, this article will demonstrate how creative approaches to PLE are being utilised at the Museum, and by its education teams. It will also highlight the creative ways that the public are encouraged to learn about the law through story-telling and creative outreach, focusing on the Museum’s latest outreach education project, Creative Court UK, funded by Arts Council England.
Overview of the National Justice Museum Education
Known originally as the Galleries of Justice, the Museum is in the historic Shire Hall and County Gaol in Nottingham, and has successfully delivered formal public legal education sessions since it was first established in 1995. The success of its PLE programmes has been in part due to the impressive building itself which features two Victorian courtrooms, and the atmospheric gaol cells, many of which have been hollowed out of the sandstone cliff that the Shire Hall and Gaol are built on.
In 2002 the Museum’s education provision became known as the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law (NCCL) which designed ground-breaking legal educational programmes and was the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Gulbenkian Prize. The inspirational curriculum-linked educational sessions use authentic courtrooms, museum spaces, objects and archives to help pupils gain a practical understanding of the law and justice system. In 2010 NCCL was expanded and began to deliver courtroom workshops to children and young people at the UK Supreme Courts and the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and went on to deliver at court rooms across the East Midlands, Manchester and the North West. Since this expansion, the Museum’s education teams have started working across the UK, and over the last five years have engaged with over 75,000 young people.
In April 2017, investment from the Heritage Lottery fund supported a significant redevelopment of the Museum’s Nottingham site. As part of this redevelopment the old Galleries of Justice and NCCL came together under one name: The National Justice Museum.
The Museum is now home to HM Prison Service Collection which is the only one in the UK that illustrates the major developments in the history of prisons. The nationally significant collection consists of 20,000 items, and includes more than 1,500 objects, including prisoner and staff costumes; the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell; the last working gallows from an English prison; over 1,200 archival documents; and nearly 7,000 photographs dating from the late 1800s to 2001.
The collection is currently being digitised as part of an HLF funded project, Justice: Past, Present & Future, which will help to protect it for generations to come by creating a digital record of delicate and fragile items.
The Museum and Education teams are now looking to diversify the content of their exhibitions and education outreach by working with a range of creative partners. Recent projects have worked with internationally renowned arts organisations such as New Art Exchange on the ‘Get up, Stand up’ project, a multimedia tour of international civil rights. Other education outreach projects have also included ‘Virtual Justice’ which raised awareness of the effects of cybercrime including cyberbullying, hate crime, child sexual exploitation including sexting and consent and e-safety. ‘Justice 20/20’ explored young people’s understanding of current laws and encouraged a forward- thinking exploration of how the landscape of law will look in the future. We also run regular ‘Help a Child’ projects which raise funds for disadvantaged young people to engage in education sessions that focus on helping prevent and safeguard young people from involvement in crime, or becoming a victim of crime.
Outreach Education Syndicates - Creative Court UK The National Justice Museum developed ‘Education Syndicates’, a concept which promotes public organisations (hosts) joining together in either thematic or geographical groups (clusters) and having their education services delivered by a central organisation. In 2017 the Education Syndicates concept was adapted to deliver public legal education outreach directly into schools. This was done primarily to widen the outreach sessions offered, but also to overcome some of the physical barriers to learning that affect schools such as disability access, and economic factors that affect schools in more deprived areas.
The Creative Court UK project, funded through the Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund has created an inclusive way for young people to engage with Public Legal Education. The project approaches PLE by creating an interactive learning space using an artist-designed ’pop-up courtroom’ and resources that are transportable to school locations.
The project was designed to feed into the Arts Council’s ‘Creative Case’ for diversity by enabling people from diverse backgrounds to work alongside artists and heritage professionals as volunteer ‘Associates’. An extensive training programme was developed as part of the project, with sessions run by project partners such as the Disability Co-Operative Network, Birmingham Museums Trust, Nottingham Contemporary, and Freshwater Theatre Company. The aim was to provide an essential overview of the way museum education can engage young people creatively. Associates also had the opportunity to work with legal professionals and experts to gain a broader understanding of justice and the law.
Designing the Creative Court
The project was developed by artist Gina Mollett and resource creator Rebecca Goldsmith, with the help of a team of volunteer ‘Associates’. The initial concept for the ‘pop-courtroom’ was derived from observations of traditional courtrooms as geometric spaces where zones are allocated for different functions. During a trial, these zones are governed by preagreed specific rules, in a similar way to how a sports pitch, such as a basketball court, has zone restrictions imposed during live play.
The geometric design of the court space was likened to the Brutalist concrete playgrounds that emerged within social housing developments in the 1960s. This linked to the idea that children first learn about rules through early game-play and their ideas of fairness are tied in to how they understand their environment and the way that others interact with them, which can be seen clearly on any school playground.
In order to explore this idea in detail, the creative team chose to explore four key zones within the courtroom space:
• The Dock – Where people stand to be judged, opening up ideas about bias, prejudice and exploring mutual tolerance and respect.
• The Witness Box – A space where citizens have the responsibility to share their knowledge and to explore how their testimony relates to their individual liberties.
•The Lawyers Bench – Examining the different sides to an argument and how the rule of law is applied in the UK
• The Jury Box – Exploring who has been allowed to sit on a jury historically and how this links to their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society.
The Creative Court UK project will be delivered in schools across Nottingham, London and the North West in early 2018 and aims to engage with over 1,000 young people nationally.
Future projects – National Portfolio Organisation
In June 2017, it was announced that the National Justice Museum will become one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations, receiving four years of funding and investment.
The Museum will be creating several new creative roles, bringing in an Artistic Director, Co-Creation Curator and a range of storytellers and artists to engage the public through creative exhibitions and live performances. This will allow the Museum to create a more versatile, diverse and contemporary programme which will attract new and repeat visitors.
The Museum will broaden its offer through four cultural experiences to explore the themes of justice and the law, past and present:
• Exhibitions: the visual, creative and intellectual output of the Museum’s storytelling
• Storytelling: an interactive way of engaging visitors and taking them on dramatic journeys of discovery
• Commissioned artists: their responses to the stories created to provoke and engage visitors, stimulate their responses and provide more diverse perspectives
• Co-creation activities: to engage and provide a platform to empower
Volunteering Opportunities for Legal Professionals
The National Justice Museum regularly works with volunteer legal professionals to broaden the reach of the organisation and provide essential knowledge and expertise to its programmes of learning.
The Museum is currently looking to expand this group of legal volunteers across its learning sites in Nottingham, London and the North West to extend its work to more schools and universities. It would beneficial for young people to be able to ask questions about the legal profession to those who have first-hand knowledge of it.
We are keen to work with students studying law, practicing professionals, or retirees.