Reading’s Happy Museum Project

For understandable reasons, deprivation rarely has a positive connotation, and ‘deprived’ areas may face a sort of stigma – which can become in itself another problem that people living in these areas have to deal with. So it was great to hear about this ‘Hidden Histories’ project by Reading Museum which aimed to overturn negative views of deprived areas in the city:

“The project drew on alternative historical narratives of clay excavations, red brick heritage, manufacturing and recent social history to shape remarkable civic stories…

By working with three very active Neighbourhood Action Groups the project challenged negative perceptions of neighbourhoods that rated poorly in national indices of deprivation and crime.”

The areas in focus were the Oxford Road, Newtown and Norcot districts of Reading. According to this article by the Museum’s Community Engagement Curator, Brendan Carr, these neighbourhoods suffered from “high levels of inter-generational unemployment, anti-social behaviour and the criminal activity of a small number of persistent offenders” with resultant social problems for their communities. If we look at Reading using Open Data Communities’ IMD Map we indeed see some pockets of high deprivation in these areas. Highlighted below is the area around Norcot Rd: 2016-05-10 16-19-42


The project saw pop-up exhibitions set up in local neighbourhoods and the creation and distribution of ‘pocket history’ pamphlets. The museum built close partnerships with community organisations and increased its influence, being invited to take part in ‘Reading 2050’. Participants were found to be slightly more positive in describing their neighbourhoods and gave “anecdotal evidence” that their wellbeing had increased through the project.

Have a look at this report for more detailed information about the project.


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