Sheffield museums and galleries getting ready to reopen after tough 12 months

Sheffield museums and galleries are looking to reopen in mid-May as lockdown restrictions are eased further.

Sunday, 25th April 2021, 10:49 am

Venues like the National Emergency Services Museum on West Bar and the Graves Art Gallery at the Central Library have also being undergoing refurbishment during lockdown, while the Millennium Gallery is reopening with an exciting new exhibition from London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Several major museums have also merged under one umbrella organisation.

Sheffield Museums becomes one of the city’s largest cultural organisations, operating Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Graves Gallery, Kelham Island Museum, Millennium Gallery, Shepherd Wheel and Weston Park Museum and caring for the remarkable collections they house.

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Curator Ashley Gallant with new exhibition Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things, hung ready for the reopening of the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield

Over 12 months since their doors first closed to the public, Sheffield’s museums and galleries continue to be hugely affected by the pandemic, a spokeswoman said.

Extended closure has seen a huge loss of income that would normally be raised through its shops, cafes, corporate hire, ticket sales and the generous donations of visitors. The museums were able to navigate the impact of the pandemic thanks to £598,000 funding through the first round of Culture Recovery Fund grants, the support of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and careful cost management.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet plans belated 50th birthday celebrations, the Graves Gallery has undergone substantial redevelopment and the Millennium Gallery reopens with an exciting exhibition. All reopen in mid-May, although exact dates have not been announced.

Head of marketing Emma Cooper and Jane Sheilds (project co-ordinator ) at the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield pre-lockdown

Photographer Cecil Beaton’s work features in Bright Young Things at the Millennium Gallery until July 4, presenting his glittering portraits of high society in the 1920s and 30s.

The independent sector has also been hit hard by lockdowns.

National Videogame Museum marketing and communication officer Conor Clarke said: “The initial lockdown nearly spelled Game Over for our independent museum. We wouldn't be reopening if it wasn't for the incredible generosity of the people and games companies of Sheffield (and further afield) that supported our fundraising campaign last year. For that reason, we can't wait to see everyone again!”

The Angel Street museum reopens on Friday, May 21. Tickets must be pre-booked at

Popular exhibits like the City of Sheffield Lifeboat are still on show at the NESM

Conor said: “There have been a few changes to the gallery experience, in order to keep everyone safe in a post-lockdown world. You can still play all the games we have in the gallery, including our retro Arcade cabinets, Sheffield-made classics and even some unreleased games!

"All of our multiplayer games are available too but we do ask that groups stick to their bubbles whilst inside the gallery. More information on our safety measures can be found on the website.

“We will also be opening our museum shop every Saturday from April 24, up until we reopen on the 21st May too. We've totally refitted our shop space and it now has a bunch of retro gaming goodies for people to pick up.”

The National Emergency Services Museum reopens on March 19, promising visitors “an even bigger and better day out” than before.

Chief executive Matt Wakefield was annoyed to miss out on a second round of Culture Recovery Fund support, meaning finances had been tight.

"Everybody deserves financial support with everything that is going on. We do actually need it to get through.”

Staff and volunteers have been working hard to present “a brand, spanking new museum,” said Matt. “We have nine exhibition zones and seven have been completely refurbished.”

Matt said the building would be far more accessible to people with disabilities with a new lift and wider ramps and doors, given the limitations of a Victorian building with a lot of cobbled floors.

A lot of work has taken place to update displays: “Some of the exhibitions that were 30 years old are now brand new with exhibits on display that have never been seen before. Some of the rooms used to look like an antique shop with that much stuff on display. We couldn’t tell the story.

“There’s a 1920s fire engine that’s always been on display. It’s been surrounded by similar exhibits. Now it’s going to stand in its own space for you to actually see it.”

The star attraction is a brand new exhibition, Daring Detectives and Dastardly Deeds, housed in the museum's original Victorian cells.

The exhibition tells the story of 19th-century crime and punishment from bobbies on the beat to thieves, forgers and murderers, and includes exhibits relating to the infamous Jack the Ripper case as well as original documents, weaponry and objects.

Another major exhibition, Fiery Blaze to Fire Brigades, has also been added during the last year.

Covid precautions in the museum include extra cleaning, hand sanitiser stations in every room and a one-way system. Visitors need to book tickets at Entry times will be staggered, although there is no time limit on visits.

Matt said it was time for Sheffielders to support local organisations like the NESM: “A lot of people know who we are and have been in the past. It’s changed so much.

“If you came 18 months to two years ago, you won’t recognise the place. It’s completely different to how it has been before.

"It’s something for us all to be proud of. Something positive to come out of Covid is quite nice.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor