Weddings at Norwich Castle among future plans for new head of Norfolk museums service
07:00 21 August 2013
Archant © 2013
The history and heritage of Norfolk’s museums is set to be brought into the 21st century, with fresh plans which could even lead to Norwich Castle becoming a wedding venue.
That is just one of the modern ideas being explored by the new head of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service (NMAS), Steve Miller, as he provides an “absolute commitment” to keeping all the county’s museums open.
Mr Miller took up his new role in June following seven years as chief executive of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, in Shropshire.
He has been appointed by Norfolk County Council as the man to lead the museums service, which manages 11 centres in the county, at a time when budget cuts are looming.
NMAS will need to find savings in the same way that all county council services will, as County Hall bosses try to plug an £182m funding gap over the next three years, on the back of £140m already saved in the last three years.
But Mr Miller, originally from the north-east of England, said the “incredible” offer of Norfolk’s museums means there is lots of untapped potential which he aims to use to generate more money for the museums service and battle those potential finding cuts.
“Museums are institutions which are trusted and special,” Mr Miller said. “It is our job to make sure we keep all this history and heritage for future generations and to make it as accessible as possible.
“I had a meeting with [county council leader] George Nobbs in my first week here and we had some brilliant conversations.
“I know he has a lot of work ahead of him in running the council but he made the time for us because he is passionate about the service and he can see the importance of what the museums can do for people.
Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service
Norfolk Museums Service was established in 1974 when the county and district councils in Norfolk agreed to delegate their museum powers to a joint committee.
Today the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service is responsible for 10 museums around the county. These are:
Ancient House, Thetford
Elizabethan House Museum, Great Yarmouth
The Bridewell, Norwich
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham
The Tollhouse, Great Yarmouth
Strangers’ Hall, Norwich
Time and Tide, Great Yarmouth
“In terms of the council obviously they have to maintain Norfolk’s roads and schools but I always say that at our worst people have a good day out at our museums but when we are doing really well, you can change a child’s life and make them want to take a different route in life.”
Mr Miller points out that museums all around the country face funding challenges, regardless of local authority ownership.
But one of his more eye-catching ideas is to open up the likes of the castle and Strangers’ Hall in Norwich as wedding, conference and event venues.
“Things like weddings and evening hire,” Mr Miller said. “Say you want a venue for a wedding venue, an anniversary part of a book launch, or events for your company, we would welcome you with open arms.
“Certainly that’s what we were doing at Ironbridge. When I started there in 2007 there were three weddings and last year we had 18.
“So somewhere like Strangers’ Hall, which is a beautiful building with beautiful gardens out the back – what a great venue that would be.”
The ideas go along with wanting to improve merchandise sales, offer more catering options and exploring sponsorship options with local businesses.
Mr Miller continued: “Ironbridge has a good reputation for generating income in lots of different ways, in retail, very good catering options etc.
“So we have been tasked, and quite rightly so, by Norfolk County Council, to generate more income. But at the same time we have an absolute commitment to maintaining access, keeping museums open and giving a good show of ourselves.”
Michael Loveday, chief executive of Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART), met with Mr Miller a couple of weeks ago and was impressed with his plans for the future.
Asked about plans to use museums as wedding and event venues, Mr Loveday said: “I think it’s a good plan and it’s good for the museums service because it shows it is thinking outside of the box. Certainly Steve did a good job where he has come from in Ironbridge and it’s good to have an inspiring guy like him involved.
“Dragon Hall keeps itself afloat by doing lots of weddings, so certainly it is Heart’s view, having recently concluded a large European collaboration project in the Norwich 20 heritage buildings, a lot of that was about getting a lot of people in to the buildings.
“Weddings, corporate events, all that is a really good way of opening up things that people don’t normally see and surprising them. In our experience people who come in different circumstances tend to come back as they think they’ve discovered something good.”