WITH Alnwick’s Bailiffgate Museum celebrating its 10th birthday, reporter James Willoughby looks back over a decade of growth and success.
IT is absolutely amazing, admits chairman of trustees Tom Pattinson, after the Bailiffgate Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.
And the long-standing representative of the Alnwick attraction has every right to raise his glass and toast the milestone.
Having been involved from the start – even years before the museum opened its doors in 2002 – he has seen the attraction go from merely an idea to what it has become today – a thriving visitor attraction, with an extremely bright future.
But it started off from humble beginnings – with some people even doubting it was possible.
Tom said: “Adrian Ions had a collection of photos of old Alnwick and he used to put them on display at the White Swan Hotel. He did it on a few occasions and people came in and had a chat and we saw the potential in it.
“The museum was his idea and he asked me to join him.
“We thought it would be lovely if we developed a place where people from the district could visit and celebrate the past.
“Alnwick has a superb history. But we thought it isn’t just about Alnwick and we decided to make it about the area served by the old Alnwick District Council.”
The foundation trustees were Tom, Adrian, John Chappells, Sister Mary Brigid and Gavin Kent – although Tom admits there were many others involved in the years of preparation before the attraction opened its doors. Work included raising and securing money and finding a building.
Tom said: “When we started off, we were interested amateurs and had no experience of running a museum. We were just interested and very keen.
“Several people said to us that nobody opens a museum and said how long do you think it will stay open? That didn’t put us off though.”
And after years of hard work, that proud day came, when the attraction opened – which Tom described as ‘a milestone for Alnwick’.
The Duke of Northumberland helped unveil the museum, assisted by youngsters Georgina Anderson, Chantelle Marsh, Claire Patterson and John Tate.
Tom, who has been chairman of trustees since the museum opened, paid tribute to the Duke – the attraction’s patron – for his role in the venture.
He said the Duke had ‘faith and gave his backing’ to the project and came to its ‘rescue’ by helping to secure the building – the former St Mary’s Church.
Since opening its doors, the museum, which has remained independent, has gone from strength to strength.
One of the highlights came a few years ago, when it was considered to be one of the 25 best days out for youngsters, as listed in the summer 2010 edition of the Early Years magazine, published by the Department for Education. It placed the museum alongside the likes of the Eden Project and the Tate Liverpool.
Tom also says that one of the best things in the museum’s history has been nurturing talented individuals in the heritage field – including former museum representatives Ian Smith, Jemma Taylor and James Etherington, who have all headed the attraction over the last decade.
He said: “Among our achievements has been encouraging young people who wish to make a career in heritage and giving them the chance to gain experience.”
The museum boasts a good number of volunteers and trustees, as well as having a friends scheme, and is now entirely volunteer-run.
The future looks bright too, with the Bailiffgate Museum – Heritage at the Heart of the Community bid progressing well.
The scheme aims to present the rich heritage of Alnwick and district and the museum’s extensive collection in new and exciting ways, among other things. It has received a first round pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund, endorsing the outline scheme, and funding has been awarded to help progress plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.
Tom said: “The big positive for me is we are still here. Not just here, but full of energy, have great plans for the future, a lot of support and great people on board. I couldn’t be more full of hope about the future.”