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Celebrating the animals' emergency service

It's been all of 18 months since we unveiled a new exhibition at NESM (we figured we deserved a rest after opening just the five in the last two years!) So we were very happy last week to open a new mini-exhibition, curated by the RSPCA, to celebrate the charity's 200th anniversary next year.

The new exhibition showcases the lifesaving work of the charity over two centuries and sits alongside exhibits featuring the work of all the other emergency services we celebrate, from police, fire and ambulance to HM Coastguard and mountain rescue.

The animal welfare charity hopes the exciting interactive display will form a key part of the educational experience offered by our museum, which is visited by 36,000 people each year. About 5,000 visitors are primary school students who are studying their ‘People who help us’ Key Stage 1 course and this forms a vital part of their education.

As well as informing visitors about the work of the RSPCA, youngsters are also encouraged to try their hand at rescuing a sheep from a cliff, dress up as an inspector, check which animals have been microchipped and identify animals hidden in boxes by touch.

The initiative was set up by the charity’s heritage project manager Phil Browning as part of the RSPCA’s 200 year celebrations taking place next year.

Geoff Edmond, the charity’s lead wildlife officer who is based in Yorkshire and attended the official opening last week, said, "This is a wonderful opportunity for the RSPCA to showcase some of the amazing work we do to save animals over our 199 years in existence - ahead of next year’s milestone.

“We are keen to promote animal welfare to young people and with 36,000 visitors a year - who are mainly young people and families - we believe this will help spread the message far and wide.

“It is also great to be exhibiting alongside the police and fire service who we work with on a daily basis on many rescues and investigations.”

Our CEO Matt Wakefield said, “We are delighted to host the RSPCA in our museum celebrating the fantastic work of our emergency services over the hundreds of years.

“We do get lots of school children visiting us from all over Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Derbyshire as part of their school studies and they all love the interactive elements and learning about the history of the emergency services.

“The RSPCA is the leading emergency services for animals so it is great to show the depth of their life-saving work.

One of the young people who had a sneak preview of the exhibition at its official opening was Eric McCarthy, who had travelled with his mum Fiona from Manchester, to visit the museum.

He said, “I love animals and rescue work and found this great fun. I enjoyed dressing up in the RSPCA uniform and pulling a sheep to safety. I want to be a vet when I grow up and help animals.”

Ruth Fletcher from Sheffield was visited by with her children Leland, Theo and Hannah. She said, “We are all interested in animal welfare and were keen to come along and see a bit more about the work the RSPCA do. It is a fun way for the children to learn as it is so interactive.

“Leland wants to work in one of the emergency services when he is older so this was great for him to find out more and he really enjoyed the displays.”

As part of the exhibition an RSPCA horse ambulance is on display along with other old emergency service vehicles.

The horse ambulance, loaned by a private collector, was among many which were instrumental in caring for horses in World War I which were vital to Britain’s efforts on the front line.

As many as 8 million horses were killed during the conflict and many more served, often in the worst conditions. The RSPCA launched the Fund for Sick and Wounded Horses - a campaign to raise money to buy horse ambulances for the front line as well as fund veterinary support overseas.

Since 1824, the RSPCA has worked to prevent cruelty, promote kindness towards, and reduce the suffering of animals. The charity’s vision is of a caring world in which all animals are respected and treated with compassion.

The charity - the oldest and largest animal welfare charity in the UK, will be hosting a number of celebrations next year to mark its 200th anniversary and will provide an opportunity to reflect on the organisation's founding and celebrate its life-saving rescue and campaign work.

Partnerships like this one with the RSPCA are really important to our museum. They allow us to stage new exhibitions and expand the stories that we tell across three floors of our historic building. A similar collaboration with Yorkshire Air Ambulance will see us unveil another mini-exhibition later in the summer so keep an eye on our social media for more news.

The RSPCA mini-exhibition is now open in our first floor temporary exhibition space. Come and see it for yourself from Wednesday-Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Information and tickets at

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