Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse
- Meeting of Breckland Area Museums Committee, Friday, 4th February, 2011 2.00 pm (Item 7.)
- View the background to item 7.
Report by Robin Hanley.
Robin Hanley presented the report (originally prepared for the cancelled meeting in December).
He gave a brief update of the events during the period from October to December, many of which had been adversely affected by bad weather.
The Christmas experience event had gone ahead despite snow and freezing temperatures, thanks to an enormous effort by staff to make the site safe. It was a tribute to the whole team that there had been no significant incidents.
The introduction of the smaller event days had worked well and attracted good visitor numbers without the need for the additional staffing required on the larger event days. They allowed a bigger programme of events at a reduced cost.
The Heavy Horse Day was one such smaller event and evaluation had been carried out on that day to determine the sort of visitors it attracted. It had been expected to appeal to a specialist audience, but results showed that the visitors were split between older people and families with young children and had generally appealed to a wider audience of largely local people from Dereham, Swaffham and Norwich.
The information gathered would help with the planning of future events. The list for 2011 was almost finalised and would be issued at the next meeting. It was broadly similar to 2010 with both large and small event days. A booklet was being prepared to help market the events and to explain the differences so that visitors would be clear about what type of event they were attending.
The 2011 programme of events would include:
- February Half Term – farm based activities
- Spring Working Day on 3 April
- Easter and Food Fair combined, on 25 April
- Royal Wedding event, on Sunday 1 May with a May Day theme
- History Fair, on Sunday 29 May – moved from its traditional Bank Holiday Monday spot to avoid competition with other events in the area
- School summer holidays – lots of activities, crafts, theme trails, guided walks, etc
- Looked After Children’s Day
- Father’s Day
- Homes on the Road, on 26 June, celebrating traveller traditions
- Harvest Day, during the summer holidays and focussed on the farm
- Village at War, on 28 and 29 August
- Heritage Open Day
- Heavy Horse Day
- Apple Day
The Christmas event was to be reviewed and was not likely to be repeated in the same format. Instead the intention was to provide two or three pre-booked, half day Victorian Christmas activity days, linked with the schools programme.
The museum would also be supporting the Night at the Museum event. Jan Pitman, Learning Manager explained that they were trying to link the learning department with general public activities. The Night at the Museum would be held in the evening and would include a haunting and a murder! Participants would deal with different issues of relationships and the evening would end at about 10.30pm.
Other developments at the museum included the Land Army Gallery which was due to open May/June time with a big publicity push. During the winter there had been lots of work carried out on the buildings and improvements made to the bird watching facilities on the farm. They were working hard to sell the venue as a place for business meetings, etc. The rooms had been used as a training facility and also to host large scale adult services events. The museum was already well ahead of its income target.
One major area of improvement works had been on the farm to protect against e-coli. Funding had been secured and had provided fencing to keep animals at a safe distance from visitors. All eating and drinking had been stopped on the farm. Clear information would be provided about e-coli so that visitors were aware of why the changes had been made and it was hoped that interactions could still be maintained, but risk had to be carefully managed.
The farm was now up-to-strength with four Suffolk Punches following the purchase of Casper and Jim by the Friends. Jim was still in training, but doing well. The museum was grateful for the work done by the Friends and by the team of 120 active volunteers. The sad loss of volunteer Mike Vincent before Christmas was noted.
The Learning Manager then updated Members on the work being done to encourage school visits. A new primary curriculum had been expected, but that had now been scrapped. The museum would still focus on the Roman, Tudor and Victorian eras, although the curriculum might change.
The biggest challenge was the financial uncertainty. High School visits had a cost implication and they therefore tended to send all their pupils to visit on one day. Fortunately, Gressenhall had the ability to take large numbers.
Visitor numbers had been maintained so far, but they would need to work harder with other partners in future and focus on delivering quality products. This would be done by constantly evaluating and developing to fit the needs of particular schools.
Various activities were used to develop communication, observation and exploring skills with young children and the same things, with a different emphasis, were used with older children to develop their thinking skills.
There were lots of ‘hands-on’ activities and some problem solving. New ideas were being trialled, such as the ‘Whodunnit?’ event which would be held the following week and would encourage interaction and get people involved in thinking and communicating.
A Member asked if primary school children’s visits were free and the Learning Manager explained that that was the case for ‘self-led’ visits by Norfolk County Council schools. If staff had to be provided there was a charge of £3 per head for half a day or £4.50 for a full day. Charges had to be made where costs were incurred and no profit was made.
The ‘Homes on the Road’ event was held in partnership with the Travellers’ Education Service and aimed to set up communication with the Traveller community.
During the winter closure the museum was still open for school groups to visit and for venue hire, but not for drop-in visitors. Occasionally groups booked for specific activities and each request was considered individually on a resource issue basis.
The report was noted.