This blog is our last for 2022, and what a year it’s been for us!
These past few years have definitely not been 'normal'; but we all know that! We’ve seen many changes in the museum sector, from the extreme of museums closing permanently to others reducing opening hours, restructuring teams and looking for new ways of engaging with visitors. As a self-funded, independent charity that relies on funds raised through its entrance costs, coffee shop, gift shop, and donations, making cutbacks and managing budgets is always at the top of our list. After all, we are from Yorkshire! ( “How much??")
During the pandemic, our small team dedicated their time to caring for the collection, researching stories of the people who serve and have served in our emergency services, improving visitor facilities and, most of all, refurbishing existing exhibitions and creating brand new ones! We’ve completely changed the dynamic of our collection, the museum’s operation, and our offering to visitors and the community. Some of this includes telling the story of forgotten heroes of World War I with front line all-female police forces to the story of the LGBTQ+ ambulance workers and what they face on the front line while protecting us 24/7; all things we are incredibly proud of! The very building we are housed in would once have been the heart of the community, and we aim to continue to be so more than 120 years later.
So, what have #TeamNESM been up-to in 2022? Our inspiring World War I exhibition, 'For King and Country', is dedicated to those who served at home and those who exchanged one service for another. This exhibition marked its first full year open in 2022 and we still think it’s one of our best (if we have to pick). This exhibition is the perfect mix of immersive learning and interaction through a reconstructed dugout, smells, lighting effects, hands-on activities and dress up, all showcasing some truly inspirational historical objects such as medical scrapbooks and hand-written postcards, allowing visitors of all ages to explore untold stories. And, following on from my earlier comments around saving money and managing funds, nearly all of this exhibition was created from recycled or repurposed equipment, cabinets, wood and fittings.
Staying with the theme of new exhibitions, the museum has for a while cared for many objects and stories belonging to HM Coastguard. With 2022 being its 200th birthday, what better way to celebrate than to create a new permanent exhibition, 'Guarding the Coast'? In true NESM style, our team embarked on research, building works and restoration projects with the view to creating the exhibition. NESM had not long since been reopened after the pandemic and was still finding its feet, so we could not invest much downtime in the exhibition. With this said, a six-week timescale was placed on removing an old exhibition, refurbishing this area of our 120-year-old building and then creating from scratch the exhibition along with graphic design, interpretation, interaction and effects, all done in-house by our own team before opening the exhibition on time. We did, all without comprising the end result.
While creating the exhibitions, our team has also started the massive process of digitising the collection to make it accessible online and off-site. Some of this can be seen on our learning pages of the website as we discover the story of ‘The Great Fire of London’ (visitnesm.org.uk/greatfireoflondon).
During these past few years we’ve been undergoing a significant collections review, looking through our existing collection and seeking new objects and stories where we have gaps. In undergoing this review we have rehomed some objects to other collections and returned some to their owners as exhibitions have changed. This process is something all museums undergo from time to time, and we were in luck as this year the Science Museum has ben undergoing just such a review, resulting in a former steam fire engine from London up for transfer. While undergoing our own review, it was noted that we did not have a steam fire engine in our collection. The end result was that this steam fire engine was transferred to us, completing a missing section of our story. This steam fire engine is now on public display in our Engine House and is now a significant addition to allow us to tell the story of fighting fire with fire.
Looking into the future, 2025 will see the 85th anniversary of the Blitz here in Sheffield. Again, following the above collection review, we have started to seek objects relating to the Blitz to allow us to refurbish this exhibition down the line and continue to tell stories that are swiftly vanishing from living memory. In researching new objects and stories, we started to look into the art of World War II. We have been fortunate to gain a collection of original wartime artwork painted from the eyes of the artist who was actually there. Artwork like this tells a story in its own right and can 'paint the picture' of life during these times.
All these new objects and stories are truly inspiring and inspirational but, then again, so is the museum’s historic home. For some time, our team have wanted to do more to celebrate the building’s vast history and the people who worked here. Finally, this year, we pulled all these stories, research and photos together to create our own book, 'Building a community'. As always, anyone who starts to research something can dig and dig, and it’s hard to stop. In early 2023 you’ll see a new website created and managed by us to capture stories for future generations. “!nspire” will be an ongoing digital project to preserve and record inspiring stories.”!nspire” has seen a soft launch this year when it was showcased at this year's ‘Emergency Services Show’ at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham and various fire station open days throughout the year.
Inspiring people of all ages is something we love to do, whether it is through our exhibitions, workshops, and activities or through our outreach programme. Along with everything else, our outreach programme has seen many changes recently. One of our earlier blogs looks at two events we participate in, Get Up To Speed (GUTS) with Science and an all-new event, GUTS with Culture. Each of these is a single-day event that sees thousands of students passing through the event, looking and engaging with relevant organisations around the subject of STEM and Culture.
It's rather hard to cram one year into one blog, so please do take the time to read past and future blogs, as a large chunk of what we do we shout about through our blogs or social media. But I could not end this blog and round-up without one of our happiest highlights of 2022 and something we will discuss for years to come… WE WON this year’s Kids in Museums Awards! If you’ve missed us shouting about this, where have you been? In both our own category and the overall award, WE WON! We were crowned 'the UK’s most family friendly museum'. Yes, you read that right!
Our team is like a little family, and we all put everything into everything we do. We’re proud of everything we do and always try and put families at the centre of the museum. Learning through play is for people of all ages and abilities!
We have some really exciting news for 2023 and some great events planned in so please do keep up to date with what’s what here at the museum. We can't wait for 2023 here at NESM!
On behalf of all of us here, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.