Special Needs Mum defies the odds and wins the Radical Changemaker Award for museums in 2021 

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Sam Bowen has who is a museum professional and special needs mum, has won the prestigious Radial Change Maker award from the Museums Association for 2021. Despite others raising doubts that this wasn’t an audience the sector had time to focus on, she has worked tirelessly to raise the awareness of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and how important their access to culture is. Sam’s work has turned the perception of ‘learning’ in museums on its head and shown how inclusive engagement benefits all visitors and also the museums themselves.  

Sam says, “I’ve worked in the museum sector for two decades but only after having my daughter Lucy, who is disabled, did I realise how inaccessible most museums are to children with SEND. I set out to change this and prove that not only are museums for everyone, but that the sector in these uncertain times, can benefit from this audience in helping to secure museum’s futures as community spaces of wellbeing and inclusion. 

Winning this award is not just a huge achievement for me personally, it recognises that the 8% of the UK child population with SEND matter to museums. 2020 was a turning point where people saw the isolation many families with SEND children face. My own child has complex needs and requires 24-hour care but visiting museums and galleries provides an enriched setting away from the home to share new experiences and build memories. To families like ours, this is invaluable and supports wellbeing and health. It is why, despite facing my own daily challenges, I am passionate about supporting others and making a difference in any way I can. 

Museums can and do change lives and the lives of SEND children and their families should be able to benefit from them equally.” 

In December 2020, Sam was awarded a project grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England to create an advice website for museums, this along with a SEND family guide to museums and an advocacy film, will help museums to develop better understanding and build relationships with this new audience. The website: SENDinMuseums.org.uk will go live at the end of the year.  

Sam is also the author of the Special Schools and Museums Toolkit the only sector guidance on this topic and regularly runs online training for museums across the UK as well as speaking at national conferences. 

SEN Magazine
Author: SEN Magazine

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