Climate Cafes and the Happy Museum's Peer Learning programme
A year ago I joined a workshop run by the Climate Psychology Alliance which trains participants in Climate Café facilitation. Consisting of confidence-building around the principles of welcoming people into a space to share “responses to climate change – a thinking space, a haven from busyness and activity”, the format recognises the impact of ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘climate grief’. I was intrigued about the potential role museums can play in helping to hold conversations which address the threat of climate change, and felt it was something that could provide a sustainable model for engagement on this issue.
Around the same time I joined the Happy Museum’s No Going Back Peer Learning programme, alongside colleagues from CMP and Royal Cornwall Museum; through this, we were able to connect with small groups of practitioners nationally who wished to “work with their spaces, stories, colleagues and connections to rethink museums for thriving people, places and planet”.
The programme encouraged me to experiment with holding Climate Cafes in museums in Cornwall, connecting with wider conversations taking place in response to COP26. The interest the peer-group showed in the concept and application of Climate Cafes in museum spaces provided the push I needed to pilot the idea.
Making use of the network of organisations CMP works with I convened three Climate Cafes; the first with members of a Memory Café which meets regularly at Wheal Martyn Clay Works, another with staff at PK Porthcurno and finally one that welcomed members of the public along with staff and volunteers at Museum of Cornish Life, co-hosted by the local Helston Climate Action Group.
Historic photographs helped prompt conversation, relating to topics such as sustainability, extreme weather events and public transport. Another Cornwall-based attendee at the Climate Café training, Lauren Campbell from Royal Cornwall Museum, hosted a Climate Café with volunteers and an artist, inviting exploration with art materials throughout the conversation.
Participants welcomed the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings, with many reporting they ‘felt better’ as a result of talking with others in their communities who listened and contributed with compassion and empathy.
Museums as sites for civic engagement, with collections informing and fostering conversation and thought is not a new idea. Working with local partner organisations and creative practitioners on this critical issue, with museum staff using their expertise to facilitate, welcome and connect offers a real opportunity to activate the museum space and contribute to the wellbeing of the community.
Thanks to the Happy Museum’s No Going Back Peer Learning programme I have been able to share the findings from this experiment beyond Cornwall and hope to encourage others to explore the possibilities of opening up museum spaces for conversation in relation to climate change in this way.
In Helston the conversation continues: the next Climate Café takes place on Saturday 18th June 1.30-3.30 – if you’d like to know more details or to contact the organiser please use firstname.lastname@example.org
Celine Elliott, Engagement Lead, CMP