University of Northampton’s ‘Leather at lunchtime’
By Professor Matthew McCormack, Professor of History at the University of Northampton
We asked Professor Matthew McCormack from the University of Northampton to talk us through his Being Human 2017 event ‘Leather at Lunchtime’, run in partnership with the National Leather Collection. Learn how the event came about, why lunchtimes proved such a fruitful time slot, and Matthew’s top tips for anyone wishing to get involved in Being Human. This project was funded by a Being Human Small Award.
Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?
‘Leather at Lunchtime’ was a series of three lunchtime events at the National Leather Collection. The festival coincided with the opening of their new museum in Northampton’s shopping centre, so it was a great opportunity to celebrate this and to raise awareness about the collection. Each day we had a short guest lecture, craft demonstrations, handling sessions and pop-up exhibitions.
I had made some contacts at the National Leather Collection a few months previously, and was keen to collaborate on some public engagement activities. Together we wanted to raise the profile of the National Leather Collection and add to visitor numbers. We also wanted to engage the public with the academic work in this area done by my university.
How did you make your event appeal to your target audience? How did you go about spreading the word of ‘Leather at Lunchtime’?
It was pitched at all ages, and we drew a diverse crowd. The National Leather Collection was a good venue for this type of event. We hoped that a lunchtime event would allow people to drop in on their lunch break, and holding it during the day also enabled us to build it into the students’ timetable. Attendees seemed to enjoy the event, commenting in feedback that it ‘sparked new interest in the history of leather’ and that a ‘welcoming atmosphere’ meant they engaged with the event.
We produced posters and flyers to advertise the event, and we used our existing networks, but our advertising on social media was also effective. We got a lot of interest before and during the event on Twitter in particular, and we kept the online engagement going afterwards with a series of blogs.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your event? Did you experience any challenges?
In general the event evaluated very positively and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves! The social media engagement was also very successful.
This has been my first experience of organising a public engagement event on this scale, so it has all been very educational for me. In particular I learned about project budgeting, engaging non-academic audiences and event publicity. One challenge we faced was that although the event was located in a busy shopping centre, it was difficult to translate that footfall into attendees. In general, the people who came had heard about it in advance.
What would be your top tip for future Being Human event organisers?
The timescales for organising events with museums are necessarily long, so plan ahead!