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Getting back on the road

Getting to our off-site store bright and early at 6am, waiting patiently for an old engine to warm up ready for its trip out to an event that starts at 9am but is only 30 miles away, leaving the event at 5pm to arrive back and park everything away safe, then leave to go home at 8pm is a standard day with our historical fleet of vehicles. And despite the long days and even longer treks, we've really missed it this year!

Keeping a running fleet of historic vehicles on the road is vital to our outreach programme for education and events. Over the years our outreach fleet of emergency services vehicles has expanded in both number and variety to include vehicles such as our dinky Morris Minor Police Car and our 30 foot ex-London Fire Brigade control unit.

Here at NESM we have a team of dedicated volunteers who care for and restore our vintage vehicles. Keeping these vehicles on the road is never easy and sometimes the simplest of tasks can take weeks of tracking down parts for vehicles that are no longer easily available.

Hammering, cutting and shaping original or replacement panels, wheel arches and locker doors is a regular sight in our workshop as we work to keep these vehicles on the road for future generations to enjoy and love. Panel beating and some of the specialist work required to keep these vehicles alive can be a dying trade and tracking down the correct person for the job can take time.

The vehicles within our collection have had a hard life before coming under our care as they are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These vehicles are designed to be work horses, driven at high speeds in all conditions while sometimes carrying the weight of heavy lifesaving equipment. One of our more modern vehicles is a Mercedes ambulance used by the Sheffield Children’s Hospital that has more than a whopping half a million miles on the clock.

We have an amazing team of volunteers who day and night work hard to keep these mega machines on the road so that we can take a little bit of NESM around the country. To celebrate the 75th birthday of the NHS I travelled from Sheffield to Manchester, over to Wales, up to Scotland and back to Sheffield with our 1980s Bedford Ambulance alongside a BBC film crew to record stories from members of the public about their experiences with the NHS and what it means to them.

On another occasion our team attended an event in Bournemouth with our East German Trabant fire car, traveling at over 250 miles at around 40mph, trying to avoid motorways all the way!

But what’s the point on all this travelling? Well our collection is truly national so we try to showcase as much of it as we can up and down the country to those that may not be able to visit the museum itself.

Our outreach collection is stored off-site to allow for vital refurbishment and maintenance work, meaning we can better care for the collection and not continuous disturb NESM's permanent exhibitions.

2020 has been a very difficult year for us all and we are all looking forward to 2021 but next year will also see us having to relocate our off-site collection as the lease on our existing site comes to an end. Finding a new home for over 30 vehicles and a large number of other smaller exhibits will not be easy but will be vital to our continued work in preserving the history of our emergency services.

NESM on tour is not only our vehicle collection! We have an amazing collection of smaller exhibits that are sometimes on loan to other museums and available to create a pop-up museum at events, again all over the country.

For the past few years NESM has worked closely with Unite the Union and the Great Yorkshire Show to provide activities, vehicles and exhibits in a large pop-up exhibition at the show. 2019 saw our team interact with over 3,000 people at the show visit this one off exhibition, something that is only possible with the museum having an off-site facility.

Our collection regularly supports the emergency services with public engagement and can be a great support in working with members of the community who may be dealing with dementia. Parking a vintage police car in a town or city centre can be great for engaging with all age groups and provide a talking point allowing service officers to engage with the community in a different way.

In addition to engaging with the community our outreach collection can be a great asset for the development of the emergency services allowing them to look back before looking forward. We always say that discovering what has worked in the past can really help us to develop going forward.

Matt Wakefield, NESM CEO

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