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Exploring NESM: your rough guide to the best emergency services museum around (no bias)

We can taste it! I'm sure it's close enough to maybe even feel it but after Boris' last few announcements we can now look at reopening and have finally got a date! Hold on to your giddy pants but our opening date is 9am on the 9th September (National 999 day, so purely accidental, right?) We've made a statement on that and it can be read on our website (in case you haven't gotten round to catching up with us) whilst we have a date (a cracking one at that) we can now strategize on how we are going to deliver that trademark NESM experience as safely as possible, whilst there will be some changes to how we open and the visitor experience we are going to try our hardest to keep the NESM experience as true as possible. So as we dust off the cobwebs, re-animate our volunteers and pop the finishing touches on our exciting new spaces (we are all VERY giddy to share them with you) I thought why not recap what an average visit at NESM looks like? For any newbies, old hats and just a reminder for our staff who feel like it has been a century since we last saw your lovely faces, read on to gain a snippet of insight into an (extra) ordinary visit to the National Emergency Services Museum!

So first, you arrive. You can park your car, get off your train, leave your bus or trundle on in, however you choose to travel we are awaiting with loving arms. On the surface, parking can look a bit of a pickle but actually we have two handy carparks a few steps from our front door (and many other car parks/off-street parking a short walk away). Whilst we don’t have an official car-park that belongs to us, we advise visitors to park in the carp-park off Steelhouse Lane. Shortly, this will have a fancy NESM sign in it, so you won’t miss it. Alternatively, visitors can park in the car-parks on Workhouse Lane or at the Hampton by Hilton hotel. These are reasonably priced, a few steps away and are clearly sign posted. For other modes of transport, we are close to several bus stops and our nearest tram stop is outside the beautiful Sheffield Cathedral in the city centre, which is a short walk (approx. 5 minutes) to our front door. Sheffield train station is also a short walk away (approx. 20 minutes).

Once you’ve spied our giant Victorian red-brick building and entered in the front door you’ll be stood in our reception, the former Police station! It’s here that you are greeted by one of our lovely volunteers and your visit begins. To make your visit as comfortable as possible, we have a space for pushchair parking, free lockers and free family/sensory activity backpacks to use throughout your visit (please note, these backpacks may not be available on reopening for Covid safety reasons). Usually, you can purchase your tickets at the front desk but due to Covid, we are asking visitors to pre-purchase/pre-book on our website only and these will be available soon, please see for more info.

At our front desk you can pick up a map (our building is a bit of a maze) and begin to explore. We have a fully-stocked gift shop which will soon be available online via our website. Our shop is full of everything from books, stationery and gifts to toys, collectibles and art. We don’t just stock all things 999 but items on military and more general social history too. We also have a coffee shop on-site. Whilst this will be running at reduced capacity at the moment, we usually serve sandwiches, toasted teacakes, snacks and hot/cold drinks. From our reopening, the coffee shop will be serving takeaway items only and will be operating on a reduced menu.

But what about general facilities? Well in a building like ours, you may be surprised to hear that it wasn’t designed with the intention to become a museum for over 30,000 visitors in the 21st century so we often have to work with what our 120 year old building gives us and that can be tricky, particularly for accessibility. Whilst we are hoping to install a lift soon (we’ve only been waiting over 40 years…) we currently don’t have one, which means access to the upper floors is only via our 120 year old stone stairs. This isn’t what we want and have been trying very hard for a number of years to secure funding and approval to make the necessary changes to our listed building to make it accessible for all.

Going forward we are also working on securing funding and support to help us create a changing places toilet as well as make changes to some of the uneven surfaces in some of our ground floor gallery spaces. Despite our best intentions, as a self-funded museum and charity we can only make our museum accessible for all with the help of funders and kind-hearted donations from the public, but until then, we do our very best to accommodate those with reduced mobility where we can, so wheelchair users are more than welcome to explore the ground floor of the museum at no cost. We also ensure that as we refurbish and change our exhibitions and gallery spaces, that accessibility is of paramount importance so we make sure we design things at inclusive heights, using inclusive language and with considerations to everyone (wherever feasibly possible).

Again, thanks to our building, toilets are limited (I mean, when the building opened it was a bucket or a porcelain pot, so we’ve made some improvements right?). We have an accessibly toilet on the ground floor as well as a male and female toilet. On the first floor we have unisex toilets. We hope to add to these in the future and update our ground floor ones (as the gents feature some rather snazzy, but dated Victorian urinals…).

We also have a quiet space for young people (or old) that need 5 minutes. Our building can be very sensory-tastic, so for anyone with ASD or those with sensory sensitivity, we can offer a space to chill. We are also autism champions, so we have additional resources to help visitors navigate spaces that may be difficult for those with ASD (such as labelled maps, sensory backpacks and pre-visit info packs). Our team are also made up of those on the spectrum, so we can provide a visit which is understanding and inclusive wherever possible.

You’ll also find that we have a series of learning rooms which can be hired out for birthday parties, corporate use and school visits. We also use these as additional picnic space on busy weekends and event days.

Once you’ve marvelled at our Victorian urinals and zenned out in the quiet space you may fancy actually exploring the three floors and outside display space of NESM. We are very proud of the fact that we hide a lot more than people imagine, with over 40 vehicles on display (including pedal bikes and manual pumps) there is a lot to see and many visitors underestimate their day with us, going away before they’ve had time to explore everything! On a regular visit you may explore our Victorian police cells and station, taking in the sounds, smells and sights of 1900 city crime and punishment. This space is actually undergoing some seriously fabulous refurbishments and whilst it won’t be open just yet (thanks Covid) we’ll be up and running soon, and it’ll be worth the wait. But from the 9th of September you’ll still be able to explore our police gallery which is housed in the former stables and garage. See an array of police vehicles and equipment throughout time and get hands-on with riot vehicles and dress-up.

Going through our cobbled courtyard (a former street) you can learn all about the history of the ambulance service, having a go at an emergency quiz, exploring some real-life ambulances throughout time and trying out what it is like to be a real paramedic. In this gallery there are displays through time, with some key vehicles such as the Austin Sheerline and the Du Cros ambulances as well as smaller personal belongings and objects.

It's also via our cobbles that you can usually find our fire engine rides (weekends and bank hols only). Whilst these are taking a temporary hiatus due to Covid (they'll be back with a vengeance, don't worry) visitors can usually expect to clamber on a real fire engine from our gates (tickets can be purchased at the front desk) and prepare for a whizz around town. This short ride leaves and returns from the museum and is a sure-fire hit with visitors of all ages. We will be posting on our social media and website as soon as we can operate our ride experiences again.

In our glorious engine house you can see some of our best original features, including Victorian tiling and our functioning pole drop! If you find yourself wandering through here you’ll see a selection of early fire engines as well as hand pumps, manuals and equipment from the 18th-early 20th century. With lots for young ones (and those young at heart) to try, handle and play with, this is definitely one of our top spaces (especially for those that can’t resist a fire engine or 5!). If you carry on exploring on this floor, you’ll also find a Sheffield Blitz exhibition which includes lots of interactive displays, some opportunities to climb aboard wartime vehicles and some super rare objects on display. Carry on outside, we have our biggest exhibit…the 47 foot tyne-class lifeboat (which we run tours on throughout the summer months), we also have a selection of mega machines that you can explore and admire, from a modern coastguard rescue vehicle to a 1980s mine rescue vehicle! This outdoor space is perfect for admiring your favourite machine in the sunshine and make sure you keep coming back, because this space changes with new vehicles coming on display form our off-site store.

If you’re not yet tired out, head on upstairs to our first floor, where you can find our history of fire exhibition (newly refurbished) which looks at firefighting from the 1700s to the early 1920s. In here you’ll find the teeniest fire engine you’ve ever seen as well as some of the last remaining examples of equipment used during the times of the Great Fire of London! Once you’ve had five minutes rest, you can carry on with the stairs and you’ll find yourselves on our top floor. Whilst our pole drop may look like an appealing way down (sorry, but it’s only our bravest staff allowed) if you stick around you’ll get to explore our modern life safety floor. Up here you’ll find a split, to your left you can learn about the modern emergency services through simulators, dioramas and even a climbing wall! To your right you can get a sneak peak into the history of the building, with a recreated fireman’s bedroom (imagine never leaving work…) and an exhibition on the building’s origins in 1900.

Phew…what a whistle-stop tour, now you’ve just got to make your way down the never-ending stairs, but hopefully it was worth the step count! It’s safe to say we are packed with enough exciting exhibits, mega machines and interactive fun to last lots of visits and after facing the difficulties of our closure, your visit now, is even more important than ever. Whilst we are so fortunate to be reopening, we’re still not out of the woods, and it’s by visiting us that you can support us going forward. We can’t wait to see everyone again (believe us, it’s been FAR too long) and even though the NESM experience may be slightly changed (keep up-to-date with our Covid plan at we know this will only be temporary and we will keep doing our best to ensure you have a safe and spectacular visit.

Roll on the 9th of September!

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