A museum near Dereham has been awarded a £150,000 grant to help establish the Georgian building as a national centre of excellence for workhouse interpretation.

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Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse was one of 40 museums across 
the country to be given a share of grants totalling £4.6m, jointly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Wolfson Foundation.

At the heart of the museum’s development ambitions will be the Voices from the Workhouse project, a collection of original accounts and real-life stories from inmates which were recently revealed through a research project involving Gressenhall’s volunteers, the National Archives and the Norfolk Records Office.

Highlights of the planned new displays would include a poverty-stricken family’s cottage and a recreated interior of a workhouse, complete with steam laundry and work yards.

The project will also showcase the UK’s largest collection of more than 300 workhouse objects including the bells that woke the inmates, wooden scales for weighing rations, triangular bed frames, scraps of uniform, a child’s boot and dolls that were made by inmates.

Robin Hanley, western area manager of Norfolk Museums Service, said: “The workhouse loomed large in the lives of many of those who lived and worked in our rural communities hundreds of years ago.

“We may feel detached from their lives and their experiences of living in such utter poverty but, in actual fact, their stories resonate with many families today, particularly when we think about society’s attitudes to mental health and poverty.

“It is right that we tell their stories as truthfully as we can, and make sure the voices of the workhouse are heard once more.

“This money will allow us to breathe life into our collections and our buildings, and give us the opportunity to explore the stereotypes, dispel the myths and reveal what like was really like living and working in a workhouse.”

Margaret Wilkinson, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for communities, including museums, said: “Gressenhall is a real treasure in the museums service, and held in such high esteem by residents and visitors to Norfolk.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have this magnificent resource here in Norfolk, and this additional money will help us to make the most of Gressenhall’s buildings, archives and collections and become the centre for workhouse interpretation in the country.”

The former workhouse building at Gressenhall now welcomes more than 70,000 visitors a year to see exhibits detailing the history of rural life in Norfolk.

The museum has also been awarded £82,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help develop detailed proposals for a major funding bid, expected later this year.

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