Visitor numbers to the new £7.75 million St Albans Museum + Gallery were 63% above target during its first seven months. More than 195,000 people visited the attraction between its opening in early June last year to the end of December – almost reaching the 12-month target of 205,000.
The figure is well in excess of the annual visitor numbers of 14,000 to 24,000 for the former Museum of St Albans in Hatfield Road. Among other highlights of the first six months, volunteer workers clocked up 6,831 hours of service.
A number of awards have been won including the Hertfordshire Building for the Future Award which recognises sustainable design. Interest in learning and educational activities has been strong with 54 sessions being held to 1,423 participants. Interactive sessions for schools in the restored Edwardian courtroom, called History on Trial, are fully booked for the year ahead.
An update on the first six months of its operation was given to a meeting of the Council’s Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 17 January. The report said the Museum Service’s overarching aims are to develop the visitor experience by delivering more high-quality exhibitions and to increase income.
One key objective is to create a programme of changing exhibitions rather than permanent ones, a new concept in the regional museums sector. This move was praised by the Museum Association – the professional organisation for the heritage industry - in its review which described the Museum + Gallery as “a breath of fresh air”.
Feedback about the attraction from social media, comment cards and other sources has been continually evaluated and acted upon. For example, the Sunday opening time was brought forward by one hour to 11am resulting in increased income from the café and shop.
Late opening was trialled on the run-up to Christmas, but it was not shown to be cost-effective or beneficial to the public. It will, though, be tested again in the summer.
A Heritage Lottery Fund grant, currently financing several key posts including Conservator and Learning Officer, is due to end next year.
Source: News release from St Albans City & District Council