- Date: 13 February 2013
- Area: South East
Billy Bragg, first guest at the empty place exhibition in Abbot's Hall at the Museum of East Anglian Life. Credit: Douglas Atfield
The Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) announced a surge in visitor figures for the 2012 calendar year with up to 15-20% more than previous years thanks to the museum's redeveloped Abbot's Hall and new exhibitions.
The Stowmarket based museum welcomed 40,000 visitors through its doors last year which helped contribute to a total turnover of £2million which was aided by capital funding. In 2005, their income stood at £180,000 proving just how far the museum has come in such a short space of time. And Tony Butler, Director of Museum of East Anglian Life, has predicted that the museums turnover for this year should be around £800,000 showing the development in capacity in both infrastructure and activity.
The Museum of East Anglian Life is the largest independent museum in the East of England. It is situated in 80 acres of Suffolk countryside on the edge of Stowmarket and consists of 25 historic buildings, collections of 45,000 objects, rare breeds of animals and environmentally significant wet meadows.
One of the major factors that contributed to the increase in visitor numbers and income for last year was the £3million Capital project to restore and refurbish the Queen Anne Abbot's Hall which reopened in April. The majority of the funding came from The Heritage Lottery Fund with the remaining amount coming courtesy of grants from Mid Suffolk District Council, Suffolk County Council and private donations. The work involved the restoration of Abbot's Hall, its walled garden, two Grade II listed cottages and to re-erect the old Settling House from Bury St Edmunds cattle market.
Shortly after its reopening last year, Arts Council England awarded the museum £9,500 Grants for the arts funding for an exhibition at Abbot's Hall and associated engagement activities. Travelling Home offered a traveller perspective on notions of home and belonging in a major capital development at the Museum.
Other exhibitions such as 50 years of Folk - the Doc Rowe Collection, a selection of photographs from the huge archive of traditional folk customs documented by Rowe; Gypsy Revolution UK, a retrospective of work - funded by the Arts Council courtesy of Grants for the arts money - by the Romani artists Delaine and Damien Lebas and I spy The Countryside, a collaboration with the Museum of English Rural Life, which includes material relating to contemporary views and perceptions of the countryside all helped contribute to MEAL's successful turnover numbers in 2012.
To build on the museums recent success and to further develop their impact in the local area and beyond, they have nearly finished their marketing strategy for which they received £92,000 grant as part of the Arts Council's Renaissance strategic support scheme to implement new ideas.
MEAL used the funding to concentrate mainly on the rebranding and redevelopment of the museums on-line capabilities. This included a complete redesign of their existing website making it more attractive, accessible and easier for visitors. The museum also hopes to have its own fully functional mobile app be ready for use by March.
The museum would also like to increase the amount of media content on the website including a range of films. MEAL already has a partnership in place with The Mix, a new young people's centre in Stowmarket, which has its own media studio. This will develop the museums community engagement and will provide the young people who are part of the centre with valuable media experience producing a wide range of content.
Their Spring exhibition in 2013 will see the museum work closely with Pallant House gallery in Chichester and will be hosting a selection of work from its Outside In programme which promotes the work of 'outsider' artists. In addition, MEAL will build on their engagement with disabled people and mental health service users and long term unemployed people
Tony Butler, director, Museum of East Anglian Life, said:
'The opening of Abbot's Hall in 2012 provided the museum with a high grade exhibition space to explore the cultural heritage of rural East Anglia. The increase in visitor numbers shows the importance of the museum as a regional cultural centre. Arts Council funding is going to help us build on this, as we create a new brand, on-line presence and mobile App. Our aim is to encourage more people to discover the East Anglian heritage through new exhibitions, events and activities which don't just feature the rural past but the trends and concerns of those living in the countryside today.'
Hannah Lake, Relationship Manager, Museums, Arts Council, East, said:
'The Museum of East Anglian Life is experiencing a large increase in visitor numbers and this is well deserved following the opening of the beautiful, interesting and idiosyncratic Abbot's Hall. We are pleased to be supporting the museum through funding which will help develop MEALs identity and support thierambitions to continue to reach out and engage a broad range of audiences in Stowmarket and beyond.'
During half term - Monday 18th- Saturday 23rd February - the museum will be running a number of drop-in activities which will run from 10am to 3pm. For further information on the activities, and the museum itself, check out their website.