Reprieve for Great Yarmouth’s Nelson Museum

Hannah Bentley, curator of the Nelson Museum, with Kerry Robinson-Payne, chairman of the Nelson Muse

Hannah Bentley, curator of the Nelson Museum, with Kerry Robinson-Payne, chairman of the Nelson Museum Management Board. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's only museum dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson has been saved, after dwindling visitor numbers threatened its closure.

Bosses wanted to move the entire collection from Great Yarmouth's Nelson Museum to west Norfolk, and it was within days of closure in May 2012.

But a five-year rescue package has been thrashed out, and trustees have agreed to keep the museum in Yarmouth - with a raft of activities planned to entice locals into the museum.

These include more family learning days, free 'night at the museum' showcases and even a Trafalgar Ball at the town hall.

The historic attraction must double its annual visitor numbers from 5,000 to 10,000 to generate enough cash to become sustainable. And people from the three Yarmouth postcodes will be a major part of this drive - as they accounted for just 5.5pc of visitors in 2011.

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Curator Hannah Bentley said: 'We need to attract more local visitors as we get quite a lot of holidaymakers and tourists who seek us out, but people don't use what's on their doorstep.'

She said a survey in 2011 showed 65pc of visitors were holidaymakers, 24.5pc day-trippers, 5,5pc from the three local postcodes and 5pc from overseas.

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And closer working links are being built with other town attractions, as organisers say the independent museum has felt the pinch more than others that are part of a group - including the county council's Time and Tide, Elizabethan House Museum and Tollhouse and English Heritage's Row Houses.

To help oversee the five-year plan, councillors have volunteered their time. Nelson ward councillors Michael Jeal and Kerry Robinson-Payne have been appointed as trustees, and Mrs Robinson-Payne is also chairman of the newly-formed local management board.

She said: 'Nelson is such an integral part of Great Yarmouth's history but he was also a national hero and we believe it is important the town doesn't lose such a wonderful resource for the local area, particularly for local schools.'

Trevor Wainwright, leader of the borough council, said the authority will work with the museum to help build visitor numbers.

'Great Yarmouth has a rich maritime heritage of which we are very proud and the connections to Admiral Nelson, who was a Freeman of the Borough, must not be lost,' he vowed.

Noel Bartram, chairman of the museum's board of trustees, said: 'We are pleased the Nelson Collection is recognised as such an important part of local maritime heritage. We are also extremely grateful for the hard work and enthusiasm demonstrated by our wonderful crew of volunteers, ably led by the curator, Hannah Bentley.'

The museum was opened in South Quay in 2002 by the Duke of Edinburgh. The 2,000 item collection includes letters by Nelson, papers written by Nelson's protege Captain Sir William Hoste and his brother-in-law George Matcham.

It is open for the summer season with a new temporary exhibition, Hearts of Oak - detailing the story of Nelson's life and career through the 27 ships he sailed, including HMS St George in which he sailed from Yarmouth for the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm and weekends 1pm to 4pm. Admission: adult £3.50, cons £2.95, child £2, family ticket £9.50.

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