It’s been a memorable year for Alnwick’s Bailiffgate Museum.
In April, the popular attraction celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Now it has been handed a late birthday present from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), after the funding body approved the museum’s Heritage at the Heart of the Community bid. The nod for a grant of more than £308,000 will allow the museum to put ambitious plans into action, transforming it into a must-see tourist destination.
It came to fruition after widespread consultation with local people, who raised concerns that knowledge of traditional skills, customs and the area’s unique dialect were at risk of being lost or forgotten if action wasn’t taken soon.
The resulting project will focus on the museum’s permanent collection, the photographic collection – not currently on show to the public – and a future oral history project.
Two large-scale community projects will take the museum out into 10 different communities to explore and record their diverse local heritage in a range of ways.
The museum’s volunteer network will also grow and be considerably developed over the course of the project.
Volunteers form the backbone of the project plans and will deliver the museum’s core business functions. Extensive training will be available to the volunteers including the chance to learn archive conservation and delivering workshops and heritage talks.
It is a major coup for the venue, which has remained independent since opening its doors in 2002.
And the magnitude of this significant cash injection is not lost on chairman of trustees, Tom Pattinson.
“It is brilliant, very exciting and an extra present after our 10th anniversary,” he said.
“We feel that we have been punching above our weight over the years, and this was before we were awarded this funding.
“The money will give us an extra push and will be the catalyst we were waiting for.
“It means we can put our ambitious plans into place and make the museum a must-see tourist destination.
“The money will be used to present both the rich heritage of Alnwick and district and the museum’s extensive collection in new and exciting ways, as well as encouraging more people from the area to enjoy them and get involved.
“This will also mean going out into communities and working with people on projects about their own heritage.
“The plans will also see the museum use digital technology to ensure that its photographic collection is accessible and to help gather and preserve oral and digital records of people’s stories, traditions, arts, crafts and ways of life for the future.
“We want to make sure that, as a museum, we stay established and also thrive.
“We believed in our heart of hearts that we would get this funding because we had a good plan.
“We wanted to reinterpret the collection we have got, making it more logical, more exciting and bring things up to date.
“We want to re-arrange the collection and make it coherent.
“The museum will close at some point for a few weeks to enable changes to be made, although we haven’t got a date for this yet.
“We also really want to reach out into the community and work with people on community projects.”
Plans are also in the pipeline to create a small local history resource centre within the attraction so that people can research family history and their heritage.
The Heritage at the Heart of the Community bid received a major boost earlier this year when the HLF agreed to give the proposals a first-round pass, endorsing the outline bid.
Development funding of £9,100 was awarded to help those behind the initiative to progress the plans and apply for a full grant at a later date.
The project has involved the attraction’s volunteers at all stages and aims to establish it as a people’s museum and an excellent resource for communities and schools.
The plans have been the subject of extensive consultation with stakeholders, communities and organisations throughout the district.
Mr Pattinson firmly believes that the cash injection will see the museum go from strength-to-strength.
“It is so encouraging that the Heritage Lottery Fund believes in us and has given us the money and we will not let them down,” he said.
He also thinks the changes that will be made at the museum as a result of the funding will benefit not just the attraction, but also the town and the wider area.
The successful bid is the latest chapter in a story of success for the museum.
But it all started from humble beginnings – with some people even doubting it was possible.
The idea for the museum was born around 20 years ago.
It was a decade in the making before that momentous day in 2002.
Looking back, Mr Pattinson, who has been involved from the start, 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.
“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 Mr Pattinson, Mr Ions, John Chappells, Sister Mary Brigid and Gavin Kent – although Mr Pattinson 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.
After years of hard work, that proud day came, when the attraction opened.
The Duke of Northumberland helped unveil the museum, assisted by youngsters Georgina Anderson, Chantelle Marsh, Claire Patterson and John Tate.
The Duke, the attraction’s patron, helped secure the museum’s building – the former St Mary’s Church.
He attended a special birthday bash earlier this year to celebrate the 10th anniversary.
Highlights along the way have included the museum being considered 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.
Mr Pattinson, who has held the position of chairman of trustees since the museum opened its doors, is delighted at just how much progress it has made in a decade.
“I never thought we would be in such a position after 10 years,” he admits.
“Twenty years ago when the seed was sown for a museum, we spent 10 years planning it, searching for cash and a building.
“For us, opening the doors 10 years ago, was a dream and our first target was to stay open, consolidate and move on.
“ I am delighted that we have been able to build on that, which has included awards and recognition from outside the area, along the way.
“Now we have been granted the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will help us create an even more interesting and engaging museum for future generations.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “Ensuring our museums and galleries have a strong connection with their local communities is very important to us at the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“Creating and sustaining these links means local museums can deliver real and long-term benefits for those who use it the most.
“This project is energised by dedicated and passionate volunteers, that will create an excellent resource for the local community and visitors alike, showcasing the rich heritage of Alnwick and making sure it is preserved for future generations.”
Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, said: “This is extremely good news for the Bailiffgate Museum and I congratulate the trustees and all the volunteers who will be able to continue their excellent work because of this HLF grant.
“The Museum has become a big part of our local community and I am looking forward to seeing how the displays and involvement with residents and visitors develops.”
Jane Nolan MBE, a trustee and member of the project team, said: “We have some very exciting plans for revitalising the displays, enhancing our facilities, and for making the museum both a must see destination for tourists and a welcoming, vibrant and well used venue for our communities. We are now looking forward to delivering those plans as a volunteer team.”
Fellow trustee and project team memberJane Mann added: “The support we have received from the community and our volunteers has been fantastic and we are really looking forward to working with people across the town and district on the outreach projects, which will celebrate our heritage and create a legacy for the future.”
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy.
From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, HLF has supported over 33,000 projects, allocating £4.9billion across the UK, including just over £237million in the North East alone. For further information, including how to make grant funding applications, visit www.hlf.org.uk