Tuesday, April 01, 2014

My last day on the Beamish Museum joint committee

One of my favourite outside committees on which I serve on behalf of Gateshead Council has been the one that runs Beamish Museum (or more officially the North East of England Open Air Museum). Alas, it is now coming to an end and new management arrangements are coming into effect. Though I will miss it, the reforms to the way it is run are a sensible way forward, even if I am not directly involved.

The museum is nothing like the stereotype of carefully displayed exhibits behind glass screens. It is hands on. It's all about experiencing past ways of life, not looking at it from a distance. Beamish contains a pit village, a railway workshop, a regency farm, a 1913 town centre, a Victorian railway station and a World War Two farm. People are carried around the huge site by trams, steam trains and steam powered buses.

Another significant feature is that the Museum pays for itself. It does not rely on revenue funding from the local councils of the region which set up the Museum in the 1960s. During the recent austerity years, even though it costs to get in, visitor numbers have been going up and are at record levels.

There are lots of lessons other museums can learn from Beamish.

I took the photo above of the inside of one of the trams on Friday, after the last meeting of the joint committee. It was still early at the time so there weren't many visitors in the museum at that point. In addition, the weather was awful - the one drawback of being an open air museum.

New attractions continue to be opened. Unfortunately, I missed the official opening of the pit pony stables on Saturday as I was attending the North East Beekeepers' Convention. And there is more to come. The next phase will see the recreation of a 1950s suburban area, and after that, a 1980s suburb will be built (to which I could donate lots of furniture, equipment and clothes from my own house - but only after I've finished using them myself!)

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