Emergency helped give Sheffield museum a new lease of life

The National Emergency Services Museum education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.
The National Emergency Services Museum education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.
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Fancy a trip to the seaside, or how about a thrilling ride on a motorbike, or a session playing with a doll’s house?

At the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield city centre, children – and big kids – can now experience all this and more.

The National Emergency Services Museum, West Bar, Sheffield.

The National Emergency Services Museum, West Bar, Sheffield.

On January 1, the museum, formerly known as the Fire and Police Museum, celebrated its first anniversary as a national institution.

And to celebrate, the top floor of the building on West Bar has been treated to a four-month refurbishment project thanks to a cash boost from the fire service.

Each room in the former firemen’s quarters has been transformed into a particular scene or situation, with safety messages detailing what could go wrong and what you can do to keep safe.

At the beach, the RNLI comes to the rescue in the lifeboat. On the police motorbike, riders can experience a real police training video on a screen in front of them.

The National Emergency Services Museum education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.

The National Emergency Services Museum education co-ordinator Clara Taylor.

The doll’s house features all sorts of home hazards and how they can best be avoided.

Other parts of the new exhibition give you the chance to check out a Nissan Micra mangled in a car accident, to watch what happens when a bin catches fire on a Sheffield street and to step back in time and see what the sleeping quarters were really like for firemen.

Matt Wakefield, museum director, says the new exhibition is a great way to celebrate the hard work which went into making the venue become national – and the spectacular turnaround the museum has had since it faced closure just three years ago.

He says: “In August 2011, we looked into shutting the museum down for the simple reason we were only open one day a week and we were all throwing our own money in to keep it open.

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“Nobody was helping us. We weren’t getting any help from the emergency services and so we weren’t able to spend any money on anything.”

At the time, Matt was employed at Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham and spent his spare time volunteering at West Bar. However, when the previous museum managers left, Matt took a gamble and left Magna to focus full-time on the museum, with help from a number of other supporters.

Matt says: “I came here and we cracked on with it.

“We have completely turned it around, it’s completely changed. We have gone from 7,000 visitors in 2011 to 45,000 in the last financial year.”

The National Emergency Services Museum volunteer and trustee Geoff Butterell.

The National Emergency Services Museum volunteer and trustee Geoff Butterell.

The building became a museum in 1980. It had been vacated by the police in 1965 and lay unused until a venue was needed to accommodate a collection of emergency services memorabilia, much of it donated by retired policemen and firefighters or their families.

Over the years, the collection grew and grew until it reached the size it is today – with more than 40 emergency services vehicles on-site and thousands of exhibits, photographs and uniforms on display throughout the premises.

Eventually, it became apparent the Fire and Police Museum’s name was no longer a fair representation of what the museum contained – as it had amassed memorabilia from other emergency services too including the ambulance service and RNLI.

Matt says: “We couldn’t really be just the Fire and Police Museum any more because we had taken on collections for other emergency services too.

“It was suggested to us by different people what we probably have the biggest collection of emergency services items, and we have the main collection.

“It made sense for us to become the National Emergency Services Museum.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

But Matt says the hard work is not over yet, and staff members are busy working on more projects and initiatives for the years ahead.

He says: “Our future plan is for us to be able to make educational visits free.

“At the moment we are trying to find somebody to fund that.

“We have all sorts of ideas, it’s a really exciting time.”

n For more, see www.emergencymuseum.org.uk