Over the last few years Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG), the largest local authority museum service in the country, has been stepping up environmental action, globally and locally, across its programming, exhibitions and operations. Examples include using their natural science collections to support international biodiversity conservation efforts; exploring climate change and environmental issues through their collections and community engagement programmes; developing specifications for reusable crates; installing a biomass boiler and LED lighting at Lotherton Hall and solar panels at the Leeds Discovery Centre.
Learning from beavers and weavers
In July 2018, Leeds City Museum opened Beavers to Weavers: the wonderful world of animal makers showcasing how animals use what they find around them. They decided to put sustainability at the heart of the exhibition, considering loans and transport, environmental conditions, design and build, interpretation, marketing, learning activities and community engagement. More sustainable options adopted included sourcing recycled paint from a local social enterprise; using recycled and recyclable alternatives to foam board; using old bobbins and cotton reels as plinths; making homemade paper from waste materials as a community activity and using this for labels; printing labels with Leeds Industrial Museum’s Albion printing press; using materials sourced from Scrap, a creative-reuse supplier for learning activities, and; making cushions from recycled coffee sacks and foam offcuts. Information about environmental sustainability and human impacts on animals was provided throughout the exhibition. In 2019, the exhibition received national recognition winning the Museum Association’s ‘Museums Change Lives’ Award for Environmental Sustainability. LMG is now looking at how they can extend and embed this approach to sustainable exhibition-making across future exhibitions at different sites.
Gardening for wildlife and wellbeing
In June 2016, a volunteer gardening project was introduced at Leeds Industrial Museum, in collaboration with Hyde Park Source, an environmental charity in Leeds. As part of the Outdoors Active and Well project, an initiative to establish community gardening and wellness groups, the garden at the museum engaged a range of volunteers. The group meets weekly to work with two large green spaces in the museum grounds. The garden was initially designed to display the plants used to dye the woollen cloth produced in the mill, but has since expanded beyond this, to a thriving, colourful space, where volunteer gardeners have taken ownership of the planting and the design layout of the green spaces. The multiple gardening experiences in the group have generated health and well-being benefits. The gardens have also improved the museum site for visitors and increased the wildlife and species diversity in the area. In 2019 the Colour Garden won a silver Leeds in Bloom Award in the Business and Communities section.
With support through the Spotlight programme – a new strand of the Arts Council’s Environmental Programme focused on building energy and carbon reduction, LMG are developing their energy monitoring and management and setting energy and carbon reductions across their sites. The programme provides opportunities for peer exchange and learning and has also helped to build closer collaboration between the museums and the council’s energy team.
LMG has joined the newly established Sustainable Arts in Leeds (SAIL), alongside other organisations from the ITV and Leeds City Council to Opera North and East Street Arts, to work collaboratively on climate and environmental action.
“Climate change isn’t something we can tackle alone, which is why Leeds City Council has declared a climate emergency, allowing us to work across the whole council to set and meet ambitious targets to reduce carbon and energy use. Spotlight has brought us together with other organisations across the Council and Leeds’s cultural sector, such as Opera North and Sustainable Arts in Leeds. It has provided a useful space to consider the unique qualities cultural organisations can bring to making a difference locally and globally.”Lisa Broadest, Head of Operations, Leeds Museums and Galleries
All images courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries. Banner image: Volunteer gardening project