Evaluating York Minster’s success

We uncovered how York Minster engaged with York city's diverse communities

  • York Minster will now incorporate social value as a core objective for future projects at the Minster
  • York Minster is now positioned as the authority in collections projects across the UK
  • Other cathedrals are empowered with the information they need to undergo their own collections projects

Taylor Nisbet were friendly, open and easy to communicate with. They took the time to get to know us and understand what makes the Collections & Learning team tick.

Kirsty Mitchell, Collections Engagement Officer

The Project

In the Spring of 2018, York Minster was coming to the end of an intensive three-year heritage project and needed to evaluate their work. We were approached by a museum and heritage specialist to apply our expertise in community evaluations and deliver the project.

 

Challenge

York Minster is one of the world’s most spectacular cathedrals. The centre of Christianity in York since the 7th century, York Minster is a place of faith, pilgrimage and cultural history. It is home to over 300,000 historic books, artefacts and manuscripts. Despite several years of professional curatorship, the collections remained misunderstood and underutilised. Cathedral Collections: Unlocking Spiritual Capital sought to understand and create access to those collections.

York Minster wanted to know what they did well and what could be improved. With the future in mind, the Minster was interested in how the evaluation could be a tool to share what they had learned and their process with cathedrals across England.

Opportunity

As the first in the UK to do a collections project on this scale, the evaluation report was an opportunity to position York Minster as the authority on these types of projects. There are 43 other cathedrals in England, and many more across the UK, each with their own historic collections. Many are sitting in storage, gathering dust. This is a lost opportunity – these collections are assets to sustainable financial growth.

A key objective of Cathedral Collections was to empower more visitors to visit the Minster, but the social value of these visits was not originally considered. York Minster is, at its heart, a space for people to collect together. From our experience in community engagement projects, we know that revitalising spaces has a deep impact on the people involved.

 

Solution

We evaluated the success of Cathedral Collections. We created the evaluation to be shared with cathedrals across England and beyond. We evaluated the project process so that other cathedrals could use the evaluation as a model to undergo their own collections projects.

 

Evaluation report objectives:

  • Review the project plan and whether that plan was appropriate
  • Engage with individuals who delivered and accessed the project about the impact it had on them
  • Identify and provide suggestions for future projects
  • Create a final report that tells the story of Cathedral Collections

Our approach

The evaluation process broke down into five stages:

  1. Review material to evaluate the objectives against its outcomes
  2. Interview the project team and academics
  3. Run focus group sessions with York City community groups
  4. Write an accessible report to tell the story of Cathedral Collections
  5. Create an attractive report to be shared far and wide

 

Reviewing material

Our first step was to review the project process and management. This laid out the structure of the evaluation, based on the original objectives of the project. We looked at how risks were managed and problems solved as they arose.

Among other successes, our research uncovered evidence of the Minster’s engagement with York City’s diverse community groups. Over 330 people from the community had attended events during the project. We prepared to meet with community focus groups to hear about the impact the Cathedral Collections project had on their lives.

 

Interviewing project team and academics

We visited York and talked with those who worked with the collections day-to-day. We spoke with staff from the project team and interviewed academics who analysed the items in the collections. These interviews gave us an insight into how the people involved thought project went and the changes they would make to future projects. Not all those involved lived in York, so we facilitated interviews in person, via video chat or over the phone.

 

Community focus groups

“My confidence is way up. I’d feel comfortable coming here any time.” – Bekhi, participant of Art Workshop with Kyra Women’s Group

In York, we held flexible drop-in community focus groups. We created a safe space for people to tell us about how interacting with the Minster and its collections had made an impact on their lives. These sessions were overwhelmingly positive. They told us that they now had the confidence to visit the Minster by themselves where they had not before they attended the Minster’s events. They also told us about the new sense of ownership they felt of the Minster. Our process uncovered how York Minster had created a sense of belonging and interaction at the cathedral, breaking down barriers community groups had previously perceived.

This is what we love about what we do! It is rewarding to work with clients who make a positive impact on the people in their communities.

“I was particularly happy with Taylor Nisbet’s approach to evaluating the impact of our work with hard to reach groups. The sessions were warm, friendly and truly people-focused. They tailored them according to my knowledge of the groups which I really appreciated.” – Kirsty Mitchell, Collections Engagement Officer

 

What we created

We developed clear and compelling evaluation report that highlighted the success and mapped the process and learning of Cathedral Collections.

 

Drafting

Our human-based approach put the people at the heart of the evaluation. We told the story of how Cathedral Collections had made an impact on the academic, Christian and York City communities. We brought together the outcomes of the collections research with the impact on the wider community. We also provided suggestions for future projects – for York Minster and other cathedrals that want to catalogue their own collections.

The tone and feel to the final report were essential for its success. It was important to York Minster that the report would be accessible to other cathedrals. We used a formal and professional tone, and clear headlines that created flow to ensure the report would be easy to read.

 

Designing

The story was brought to life by reflecting York Minster in the report’s design. We used a motif inspired by the Minster itself! The Great West Window, a masterpiece designed in the 1330s, has a heart-shaped motif – nicknaming the window ‘The Heart of Yorkshire’. The motif framed images and important text, creating a connection between the place, project and report.

We worked within brand, incorporating the Minster’s personality into the design and taking a tone that suited the majesty of the Minster. Our final evaluation report was, without question, a reflection of York Minster.

What difference did we make for York Minster?

We developed a thorough, professional and aspirational evaluation that positions York Minster as the authority on collections projects across the UK. As the first to undergo a project of this size, the Minster has paved the way for other cathedrals to utilise their own collections. Our evaluation report encourages other cathedrals to see their own collections as assets to sustainable financial growth. It gives those cathedrals the tools and structure they need to analyse their own collections.

York Minster’s Cathedral Collections project had a deep impact on various community groups in York city. We uncovered this social value through our research and expertise in community consultations. We demonstrated how bringing people together and creating relationships increases the feeling of local ownership. The collections were the tool to facilitate this impact. York Minster has decided, as a result, that social value will be a core objective for future projects.

Our evaluation of Cathedral Collections has ensured that the learning from and impact of the project will continue to positively affect the Minster’s and City’s communities into the future.

Want to take a closer look at the evaluation report we developed for York Minster? Click here to download the PDF version.

Taylor Nisbet has provided us with the tools to meaningfully advocate for the way we want to engage with all who encounter York Minster. I was particularly impressed and humbled by the team’s people focused, respectful approach to measuring the impact of our work with hard to reach groups. The sessions they facilitated have provided me with powerful and emotive evidence to go forward with.

Kirsty Mitchell, Collections Engagement Officer

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