"It's almost like a new museum" as Sheffield attraction prepares to reopen
Back in August 2020 the Telegraph reported on the preparations being made by Sheffield’s National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) as the team readied themselves to welcome visitors after a six-month coronavirus shutdown.
The enforced closure had led to fears that the museum might not survive but an emergency fundraising appeal, together with support from the local community, saw NESM make it through to reopening in September. As Matt Wakefield, the museum’s chief executive, said at the time: “We know we are not out of the woods yet, but the issues we have faced in the last six months, and the changes we have made to increase our resilience, have put us in a much better position to tackle our next challenges; getting visitors back, staying Covid-safe and bringing in more income.”
Little could the team have known how short-lived this return to something like normality would be. Just eight weeks after opening the doors, another lockdown meant the museum had to close again.This means that a museum that usually relies entirely on visitor income to survive has been closed to the public for 12 of the last 14 months.
But now the team is looking forward again. NESM has announced plans to reopen its doors on Wednesday 19 May, and Matt says visitors can look forward to an ‘even bigger and better’ museum than before.
He said: “While the first six months of our closure were all about survival, over the last few months we’ve concentrated on improving the museum and the visitor experience. We’ve been able to do this thanks to grants that have covered the costs of specific bits of work and maintenance, generous donations from companies like Wessex Fire and Rescue - who funded our new lift - and the support of local businesses. Not to mention the amazing work of our in- house team, who can do extraordinary things on the smallest of budgets!”
The result of all this hard work, says Matt, is ‘almost a new museum’ which might surprise even regular visitors.
The star attraction of the new-look NESM is a brand new exhibition, ‘Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds’, housed in the museum’s original Victorian cells.
The exhibition will take visitors on a journey through the dark and dangerous streets of 19th century Britain as it tells the story of crime and punishment, from uniformed bobbies on the beat to detectives and the development of forensics.
The exhibition will showcase more than 60 original objects never seen before at the museum, including a genuine death mask, tools of the detective’s trade, uniforms and some rare, original documents from the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
Another major exhibition, ‘Fiery Blaze to Fire Brigades’, was added during the last year and tells the story of the creation of the modern fire brigade.
Vehicles and other objects not previously on display at the museum will also be on show from May, including an 18th century parish fire pump and a 1959 Ford police car that featured in the ITV drama ‘Heartbeat’.
There have been other improvements too. Better signage helps to tell the story of NESM’s historic home as well as the many emergency services it celebrates.
New doors have replaced the open iron gates, meaning a warmer and quieter ground floor, and the addition of a lift - the first time the museum has had one - will improve accessibility.
Regular visitors needn’t worry though; favourite exhibits, like the museum’s 47-foot Tyne Class lifeboat and the Blitz exhibition, are still ready to be explored.
Matt said: "We can’t wait for everyone to see the changes we’ve made - it’s almost like we’re a new museum!
“As much as we’re looking forward to reopening we know things are still uncertain and money is tight, so I really hope that people do come and see us, support us and help us keep our fantastic museum going.”
Tickets are now on sale at visitnesm.org.uk/booking. Advanced booking is recommended as numbers per day are limited.Covid-secure measures will be in place and visitors will be required to wear a face covering unless exempt.