Medicine at the Movies, UK Medical Collections Group

Medicine at the Movies, UK Medical Collections Group

2010 Digital Access Onsite Commendation

Exemplary qualities

Medicine at the Movies is an impressive and highly complex collaboration, in which participants learnt new skills. They were in the driving seat, shaped the project and the films.

Medicine at the Movies has empowered participants and been life changing for some. For example Alex, who has had chronic depression changed over the course of the project, became very confident and was able to address the whole group with enthusiasm by the end. He even went on to give a presentation at the Leeds launch event something he said he would never have been able to do before.”

The project learning is very well documented in a toolkit for museums embarking on film projects with under-represented audiences.

The project

‘Medicine at the Movies’ was led by staff at the Thackray Museum, Leeds in partnership with the British Dental Association Museum, London; the George Marshall Medical Museum, Worcester; the Jenner Museum, Gloucestershire; the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London; and the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett, London.

‘Medicine at the Movies’ was an innovative project which invited adult learners to use medical museums as inspiration to make a series of short films. Each of the six museums worked with a different group of learners, most of whom did not typically visit museums and had not visited the medical collection before. They included older people, young writers, refugees and asylum seekers, people with a learning disability, mental health service users and deaf and hearing impaired people.

Learners used the museums’ collections and spaces to develop their own stories about medicine and health. With the help of a professional film-maker they learnt the skills to make their own films, interpreting the collections in creative, funny, moving and challenging ways.

Taster events were held at each site, largely being formed of ‘movie nights’ where films about the history of medicine were shown. Participants who chose to continue after the taster sessions, took part in exploratory sessions during which they explored artefacts, archives, oral histories, photographs, in the presence of expert staff. Each museum employed a film artist. They taught participants how to use filmmaking equipment as and guided participants through the filmmaking process over several months.

The films are available at and

Several of these films focus on the process of developing the films, such as ‘A Making Of’, and are excellent examples of the fun had by participants and staff at each museum The total budget of the project was £91,500, with each museum having an individual budget of roughly £13,900.

The project demonstrates how museums can be accessible and stimulating learning environments. It also provides evidence that when people are invited to create their own interpretations of museums, the results build stronger community connections and lead to lasting partnerships.

A toolkit has been produced by staff at the Thackray Museum to guide other museums or community organizations planning a filmmaking project


The storyline and content of the films was led by the participants at each site with minimal direction or input from museum staff or filmmakers where possible. This process was managed differently depending on the abilities of the participants and their own learning requirements, but was a central tenet of the project, put in place to ensure that participants felt they ‘owned’ the end result. Learners were able to share their own stories and life experiences. For many the opportunity to find their voice and share their story was an important part of the project and this comes through strongly in the final films. It was particularly important for marginalised or minority groups, such as refugees who were able to share experiences from their home countries, or Deaf learners who valued the opportunity to communicate their experiences to a wider audience using their own language.

The project has demonstrated how different communities can be engaged in an inclusive way. Deaf people, the BME community, mental health service users, older learners and people with learning disabilities have all been inspired by the museum collections, developed new skills, created new relationships and been able to tell their own stories in their own way. This project has given a voice to many people whose stories would otherwise not be seen or heard.

I have really enjoyed being involved with this project, and it has made me think in a positive way about how things have moved on in terms of mental health. In being part of Film project I have done something which I have really enjoyed, it has given me a new experience that maybe I would never have done. Being in the group gave me a real boost and it was something to look forward to each week. In a way it took my mind off my problems and helped me with my self confidence. (Alex, participant at the George Marshall Medical Museum)

Other activities

The UK Medical Collections Group (UKMCG) was created as a subject specialist network for UK museums with medical collections in 2005. Its aim is to demonstrate how medical collections can make a difference to the public, to historical researchers and to professionals. The network provides support for the development of medical and related collections, and engages in research and interpretation to share knowledge of the UK’s medical heritage.

All six of the museums work to promote accessibility information and services in the community, and spend a great deal of time working to improve what’s on offer.

All of the partner museums have developed at least basic materials to improve accessibility for different visitor groups.

The Hunterian Museum, London has quietly innovated the representation of disability in its collections, a couple of years before disability representation in museums rose to prominence as a key contemporary issue. The Thackray Museum won a Commendation for the 2007 UK Jodi Award for its particularly clear, easy to use and accessible website. It consulted Henshaws School for visually impaired pupils about the redevelopment of its website.

The future

The participating museums have all embarked on a programme of encouraging other museums to consider this form of project, partly by preparing a Toolkit for distribution (as a PDF to ensure the widest possible circulation) and also by speaking at numerous sector events in this country and further afield.

The collaboration and shared experiences provide a strong starting point from which to advise other museums staff considering similar digital projects, particularly with access issues as a focus.

The project partners believe that the format of this project could become a tool to develop links with healthcare providers in the UK. Staff at several medical museums in the UK, including some of those involved in Medicine at the Movies, are currently working together on a bid to fund research into how medical museums can deliver on health agenda through education programmes.