Relaxed Santa sessions

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Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds, is part of Leeds Museums and Galleries. These sessions were something we decided to do ourselves, out of a growing customer need. Abbey House has long been perceived as a good site for children with additional needs and our site learning officer’s expertise has fostered this. Some of the crafts were funded through ACE Major Partner Museum monies, mostly through core LCC budgets (LCC staff time to open building) and (I think) entrance fees.

Abbey House is set in a mixed inner city area, including some high areas of deprivation, and low education, local families with high support needs and high unemployment. However the event also draws families from across the city as we are the only place in Leeds to do a general relaxed Santa session (ie, not one in a specialist SEND setting).

Description of the arts activity

Every year, Abbey House Museum runs ‘meet Santa’ sessions for local children. These can be vibrant, boisterous and hectic sessions, and are immensely popular, but can also be overwhelming for some – particularly for children with additional needs.
We are always at pains to communicate with people who attend our events, and after hearing from parents and carers about the challenges this group experienced, we hit upon the idea of running ‘relaxed Santa’ sessions over Christmas 2014 and 2015 that they could book to attend with their children.

We ran these sessions when the museum was closed to general visitors, so that we didn’t have to worry about crowds or about non-booked-in people wanting to take part. We also took Santa out of his usual grotto, and located him at the top of our Victorian street. This was so children could choose to approach Santa as and when they wanted to.

We also provided a quiet room, sensory toys, books and some simple craft activities, so that there was a whole package of support in addition to Santa himself.

In all, 29 children with additional needs visited, along with 17 siblings and 33 parents and carers.

The sessions worked really well. The young people got to take part in a Christmas activity they would often have felt excluded from previously. We could see on their faces how much they enjoyed the sessions, but we also got a great deal of very positive feedback from the parents and carers themselves.

We will run the scheme again for Christmas 2016.

Details of the project participants

The target population is families with children with additional needs, but the whole family is welcome. Recruitment is through the local children’s centres and city-wide SEND specialist networks for parents and carers, and the SEND Children’s Services newsletter to parents and carers. It has been so popular, that information has been widely spread by word of mouth.

Project management

The sessions are in-house delivered, so managed by us. Tacit consent through families booking on. We limit the numbers to keep it relaxed! There was no cost to the participants.

Evaluation methods and findings

Evaluation has been informal and qualitative, based on direct feedback from the participants and their parents and an increase in return visits.

This project has been written up in West Yorkshire’s Museums: Making a Difference (2016) available online here:

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England