Boost for the region’s museums despite floods and controversy

David Court, a former driver of Flying Scotsman, on the footplate at the National Railway Museum in York
David Court, a former driver of Flying Scotsman, on the footplate at the National Railway Museum in York
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THE DRAW of Flying Scotsman and a renewed focus on science helped secure boosted visitor numbers at two of the region’s biggest museums over the last year.

Despite grappling with a drop in tourist numbers to York following the Boxing Day flooding, the city’s National Railway Museum (NRM) saw a 3.1 per cent rise in visitors in 2015/16 – with three quarters of a million visitors.

Bradford’s National Media Museum (NMM), which earlier this year was accused of “cultural vandalism” for agreeing to transfer 400,000 photographs to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, saw an even bigger increase in visitors of 11.1 per cent – to 460,000.

The owner of the attractions, Science Museum Group, which also runs the Science Museum in London, Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and the National Railway Museum site at Shildon, County Durham, had 
a record-breaking year, with more than 5.5 million visitors across all sites.

In York, the NRM said its strong numbers were driven by last year’s successful York Theatre Royal collaboration productions of The Railway Children and In Fog and Falling Snow, and the restored Flying Scotsman, on display at the museum until May 1.

In January tourism agency Make It York warned the floods had provided a “very difficult start to the year” for tourism businesses, while Welcome to Yorkshire chief Sir Gary Verity warned footfall had “dropped dramatically” due to the misconception that swathes of the region remained underwater.

Director of the NRM Paul Kirkman said the increase was “testament to the fantastic year we have had”.

“Our ground-breaking partnership with York Theatre Royal saw two of the city’s heavyweight cultural institutions pool resources, expertise and enthusiasm to engage audiences in the history of the railways in new, exciting ways,” he said. “Now we’re delighted to have Flying Scotsman on display as part of our season of events and exhibitions celebrating the famous steam engine, and we look forward to welcoming more visitors to see the loco up close over the coming weeks.”

The increase in visitors at the NMM has been put down to a “new focus” on the science of image and sound. In February fears were raised that it was being closed by stealth after announcements that some 400,000 photographs are being moved to London and Bradford’s International Film Festival has been scrapped.

But the Museum Group last month “re-affirmed its commitment” to the museum, and plans to invest £7.5m over the next five years.

The increase in visitor numbers was also due to a partnership with Horrible Science which brought almost 30,000 visitors to the Museum in just nine days in February, and last summer’s Light Fantastic exhibition.

The Museum has support from the community for its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) agenda, with Bradford Council investing £1m for informal science education.

Science Museum Group Director Ian Blatchford said: “At the National Media Museum, the sharpened focus on STEM has triggered a record-breaking 11 per cent rise in visitors, and in York the growth is a real success given the impact of recent flooding on the city and region.”

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said the figures showed people were “voting with their feet” and have a real appetite for knowledge and innovation, “which bodes well for culture and the economy”.

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