So you’ve found us. Firstly congratulations, like the Sword of Gryffindor, we only seem to appear to the select few! You’ve joined the growing, but elite group of NESM supporters; despite our national collection, location and over 30,000 visitors a year (and growing!) NESM is often landed with the cliché of the millennia: ‘hidden gem’. Whilst we won’t dispute our gem-like status, hidden we are not. You can find us in the middle of the city centre of the Greatest City in Yorkshire (sorry Leeds). With over 20,000 square foot of space, a city centre location and an enormous, striking, Victorian building it really is a myth that we are hidden! But if we had a penny for every time a visitor told us that they’d lived in Sheffield all of their lives and didn’t even know we were there we’d definitely have a gold crown for every volunteer.
Myth number two: ‘You have to love fire engines and police cars to go there…’
NESM is more than its nee-naws! Inside our Tardis-like building you can discover everything from our original Victorian Police lock-up to our living history Blitz exhibition. Dress-up and learn about medicine through our Apothecary window, become an ARP warden with our Civil Defence shelter display, get to grips with Victorian crime and punishment and even pick-up the skills to scale Everest with our mini climbing wall. Here at NESM we display items which look at social, military and cultural history. We don’t just explore the emergency services themselves (and there’s lots more than just Fire, Police and Ambulance…) we also look at the society around them and the impact they had and continue to have on our lives. The emergency services really provide a fantastic lens to explore the rest of history through and that’s what we love to do at NESM!
We also run an incredibly varied programme of events throughout the year. You can expect to see all manner of themed weekends, living history events and more. So from leeches, miniature ponies and vampire nuns to singing steampunk robots, Victorian policemen and recreated trenches, it’s safe to say here at NESM we cater for all interests with our intriguing events.
Myth number three: ‘you’re supported by the emergency services’
NESM is a self-funded and entirely independent museum. We are not affiliated or supported by any one emergency service. This is what it says on the tin. We don’t receive funding from any emergency service or local authority. Whilst we are sometimes lucky enough to win occasional support from bodies or organisations in the form of grants and do receive some support from our friends at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to deliver their fire safety workshops NESM’s entire existence relies on you, our lovely visitors! Each admission, every gift shop and coffee shop purchase and every kind donation goes towards keeping this museum alive. Whilst this can be hard work for everyone involved, NESM is proud to be the museum of the people for the people.
Myth number four: ‘It’s easy to keep an independent museum going’
From the museum’s birth in the 1930s, NESM has undergone many changes and challenges. Moving into our current home in 1984 as the South Yorkshire Fire Museum we faced a derelict building with no services and even in some parts, no roof! With help from the community and over several years, our building, West Bar Police, Fire and Ambulance Station was brought back to life. Evicting the pigeons, installing electricity and water, rebuilding walls and ceilings and working through years of graffiti, damage and general dereliction was a daunting challenge for a handful of passionate volunteers. With no money and no real understanding of what NESM would become, a section of the building opened. Since then, the entire building has seen several waves of changes. Going from ad-hoc openings to opening 5 days a week, and from the South Yorkshire Fire Museum to the National Emergency Services Museum. But there’s still so much to do! There’s still galleries that we are keen to modernise, rooms that need a facelift and we are always looking to improve our facilities, particularly installing a lift and improving access but despite our passion and eagerness to get these things done they require both time and money. Opening 5 days a week leaves little time to conduct the important and often, large-scale refurbishments and repairs needed in a busy 120 year old building. Costing £20,000 a year to maintain and £300,000 a year to run, it takes a mammoth effort from all staff and volunteers to keep everything going smoothly. With limited funds and over 5000 school children, over 30 events, over 50 bookings and only 6 paid staff members keeping the wheels of NESM turning can most definitely be an almighty challenge.
Myth number five: ‘how hard can getting a 120 year old building warm, dry and wheelchair accessible really be?’
The sad truth is, if our building ticked just one of those three boxes, we’d be bouncing off the ceiling with excitement. Why? Because on a bad day, these tasks seem IMPOSSIBLE, faced with listing restrictions, limited funds and limited time a relatively simple job becomes the most complex one. Our home, West Bar Police, Fire and Ambulance Station is 120 years old. That in itself provides some real fun and games, but paired with the fact that it was a building painstakingly designed for the bustling Fire and Police services of yesteryear means our small team are left with a very large problem. One of those problems is trying to develop a modern, interactive museum suitable for thousands of visitors within a 120 year old station. Creating and installing facilities such as accessible toilets and the highly sought after lift can take years of fundraising, planning and permission-seeking. Even bigger jobs like replacing the entirety of our 120 year old roof would involve the mammoth task of road closures, temporary roof structures and hundreds of thousands of pounds. But despite these obstacles each year NESM makes improvements to the facilities, exhibitions and access. Whilst there’s still a long way to go, we are determined and committed to making those changes and we just hope our lovely visitors bear with us as we conquer as many of those obstacles as possible.
So there you have it, you’ve made it to the end of the top 5 myths around NESM, we hope we’ve shed some light on what goes on here and perhaps we’ve disproved a thing or two? Caring for our 120 year old building and all of the objects in it really is a privilege. Each and every member of our team takes great pride in what we do and there’s never a better moment than creating something that our visitors can enjoy and engage with. We can’t wait for what the future holds! We hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of NESM, feel free to leave any comments or questions below.