Weddings at Norwich Castle among future plans for new head of Norfolk museums service

Steve Miller, the new head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, at Norwich Castle.  Photo: Bill Smith Steve Miller, the new head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, at Norwich Castle. Photo: Bill Smith

Wednesday, August 21, 2013
7:00 AM

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.

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Steve Miller with work nearing completion to restore the old courtroom at The Shirehall.  Photo: Bill SmithSteve Miller with work nearing completion to restore the old courtroom at The Shirehall. Photo: Bill Smith

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.

Steve Miller, the new head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, in the keep at Norwich Castle.  Photo: Bill SmithSteve Miller, the new head of Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, in the keep at Norwich Castle. Photo: Bill Smith

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

Norwich Castle

Cromer Museum

Elizabethan House Museum, Great Yarmouth

The Bridewell, Norwich

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham

The Tollhouse, Great Yarmouth

Lynn Museum

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.”

9 comments

  • I visited the Castle recently and found the natural history gallery particularly interesting. I found it has been completely changed since my previous visit a few years ago, although I'm pleased they have kept the lion which roars as you walk by to startle children.

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    rock man

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • The new head of museums should concentrate on undoing the ill judged changes made by Trevelyan and returning the Castle to a decent museum holding well displayed collections of interest instead of a playground. I once held a season ticket for Norfolk museums but no longer. I happened to make a visit last week and was disgusted by the continued dumbing down. I appreciate , as a parent , that museums should and like to appeal to children but there is a point at which one has to say children need to learn to appreciate some matters in a considered manner. I realise exhibits need interpretation but there is a point where the over curating of exhibits gets in the way. Take the Carter room- a new dinky room set aside for exhibits once much easier to see on the gallery, the Anglo Saxon and Viking room is comprised of so many PC information boards they become annoying and the Iceni-Romano British section is overly cramped. Exhibits which related to Norfolk have been removed and the Keep is almost bare of relevant displays and has been turned into a childrens' playground , a sorry example of lost opportunities to properly show the history of the castle. At least Ted Ellis's dioramas and the art galleries have been mainly left alone so that is something to be thankful for.The museum is fast losing credibility as much other than a place for parents to take their kids on a wet afternoon and that in turn deters regular visitors who like to see what is newly acquired and to revisit long standing displays and be credited with a bit of intelligence. .

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • What are museums for? Well, one thing that marks them out as unique is their collections. The ‘things’ that they hold cannot be replicated online. It is this tangibility that is key. For me, there is something special about artifacts that have a powerful story behind them. The best museums find creative ways to ‘liberate’ and convey these stories and, despite some of the criticisms made here, I believe that Norwich Castle Museum has some excellent practice to build on. I would agree with other comments here that the keep is too pared down in terms of collections. However, I understand that there are currently plans afoot to redisplay this area. In my opinion, the template for this process is already present within the Castle Museum. I think the recently re-displayed Decorative Arts and Natural History galleries are excellent. Object-rich, beautifully displayed and interpreted in an accessible way, marrying breadth with depth. I continue to return to them and make new discoveries each time. In the meantime, however, the stark fact is that museums are going to have to generate income or they won't survive. I don't believe that this necessarily compromises their 'academic' credibility. Well thought-out and relevant galleries aren't just A good business, they ARE good business.

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    Colin Howey

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • I agree with 'Daisy Roots' - I visited the museum when I was young - 'I was a child in an adults world' - now - ' I'm an adult in a child's world ' !

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    Stop Press

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • Well said Doris, as soon as I saw the headline I knew the first Victorian rant would be from Daisy Roots, as it always is with articles about improvements to Gressenhall Museum. Young children learn so much more through play and not by being lectured to by your stereotypic school master. I am a proud owner of a museum pass, and am pleased that my 8 year old learns so much from Norfolk's museums because they are made attractive to families. I think weddings in the castle are a wonderful idea (as long as they don't close the castle every Saturday to the public for these events). Perhaps I could encourage my husband to renew our vows here - I might even be able to squeeze into my wedding dress :

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    Catty

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • Some of the children I saw were never going to have their lives changed by the museum because they might as well have been at Pleasurewood Hills for all the interest they were showing in the exhibits-charging around with a bit of paper in hand and a tick box and dressing up in a few clothes does not necessarily make for a potential customer base in the future nor instil a love of museums. Be brave Norwich, break away from the exit through the gift shop mind set of modern curatorship

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • Oh great, and what's next, the mummy being used as the bridesmaid? This is a museum, please leave it at that. Next thing they'll do is open up a Starbucks and McDonalds in there.

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    Ar ya reet boi?

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • I think it's a lovely idea providing it's done well and in keeping with the building. As for the changes over the years have you considred actually giving constructive feedback to the museum or are you happy just to have a moan on a public website?

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    Doris

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  • hey had a wedding at Norwich Castle 2 or 3 years ago in a marquee in the grounds and it was a washout due to the heavy rain but I hope all goes well for indoor weddings though I don't really think a museum is right for weddings.

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    JEN

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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