Sheffield's museums are reopening this month - and now all of them will be free to visit for the first time
“Lots of people have got connections with Sheffield museums that go back decades”, said Kim Streets.
The chief executive of Sheffield Museums – a new charitable trust that encompasses four city museums and two galleries in a merger of Museums Sheffield and the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust – spoke to the Sheffield Telegraph about its detailed plans for reopening as lockdown eases, and revealed that two sites will now become free to visit.
Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Kelham Island Museum will reopen this month, and there will be no charge to enter either, a change that is aimed at encouraging more people to visit more frequently.
The hamlet opened as a museum in 1970, Kelham in 1982, and it is understood this is the first time they will have been free to access for all visitors.
Kim said: “Lots of people have got connections with Sheffield museums that go back decades – maybe your nan donated something to a museum - because the collections come from the people of Sheffield.
"Museums are built on gifts, on people donating items to the people of Sheffield, so we feel that by gifting people admission we will be able to welcome more visitors.
"We hope it will make a big difference in terms of people being able to pop in and visit more often, rather than thinking they have paid admission so they have got to stay for five hours.
"If people live nearby to one of the museums they could pop in, have a cup of tea and see something new that’s on display, that’s quite exciting for us.
"I believe Kelham Island and Abbeydale have always had an entrance fee – this is a first.”
Sheffield’s museums have been closed for months due to the Coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a huge loss of income usually raised through donations, shops, cafes and corporate hire.
The museums were able to navigate the impact of the pandemic thanks to funding through the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and continued support from both Sheffield Council and Arts Council England.
Now the return of visitors will play a critical role in enabling the charity to lay firm foundations for its future.
While there will be an impact financially from the lack of entrance fees paid at Kelham and Abbeydale, Kim Streets said she hoped a larger number of visitors would still be able to support the trust on more of a ‘pay as they feel’ basis.
She said: “People are very generous when they come to the museums. They might make a donation or become a Friend of the museum, they might buy a treat for their child in the shop or use the cafe and all of those ways of support are really important to us. What that also does is build the connection between you and the museums.
"Being open and free is only possible thanks to the incredible generosity of our visitors, so if you’re able, please donate, it makes a huge difference.”
Museums staff have been working hard to prepare the sites for reopening safely, and there is a packed programme lined up for visitors.
At Kelham Island Museum which opens on Thursday May 20, visitors will be once again be able to experience the roar of the River Don Engine, which will be in steam publicly for the first time in over eight months, and explore displays celebrating the centuries of incredible innovation that has cemented Sheffield’s reputation for excellence in making.
The Millennium Gallery also reopens on May 20 with a dazzling new exhibition direct from the National Portrait Gallery. Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things explores the extravagant world of the glamorous and stylish ‘Bright Young Things’ of the twenties and thirties.
On the same day, Weston Park Museum will offer visitors the first chance to see the latest addition to the museum’s displays, a four-metre-long skeleton of a pilot whale.
The skeleton was carefully reassembled by Sheffield biology lecturer, Dave Clay, during the first lockdown and has been suspended from the ceiling at the entrance to the What on Earth! gallery. The popular exhibition The Sheffield Project: Photographs of a Changing City, which opened just before the last lockdown, also makes a return.
A window into life at an 18th century steelworks, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet will reopen on Saturday 29 May, with plans in the pipeline for a series of belated birthday celebrations for the museum, which turned 50 last year.
Finally, on Saturday June 5 Shepherd Wheel will welcome visitors for the first time since March last year. The Grade II listed building and scheduled ancient monument in the Porter Valley’s Whiteley Woods offer a rare chance to see a 16th century waterwheel in action and explore the cutlery grinding workshop it powered. The Graves Gallery remains closed until later this summer as work continues on refurbishment.
Visitors will be encouraged to pre-book their free visit using eventbrite.co.uk, with booking live from 9am today (Thursday May 6). Enhanced cleaning, hand sanitiser stations and changes to air handling systems at some sites will also be in place. Visit museums-sheffield.org.uk/welcome-back.