SUFFOLK’S museums were praised for their contribution to their communities, to the preservation of local heritage, and to the county’s tourism economy at the first-ever Museum of the Year awards-giving.

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The ceremony, held at the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich, was a celebration of the myriad of mostly small and volunteer-run organisations that care for much of the county’s local history and contribute hugely to its heritage appeal.

Highlighting the kind of individuality that contributes to the sector’s curiosity value, Suffolk Museum of the Year 2012 winner Lowestoft and East Suffolk Maritime was presented with a specially-commissioned fun prize that meant it went home with a replica haddock as well as a plaque.

The museum wanted the fake fish in order to complete a display illustrating how food gets from the sea to the plate.

Judge, Jackie Fairweather of Suffolk Children’s University, said this was just the kind of eye-catching idea that appealed to her – and would attract younger visitors.

The Museum of East Anglian Life carried off the other top award of the night – a special award for innovation – for the ambitious way in which it approached its recent £3million re-development of Abbot’s Hall and the interpretation of Crowe Street Cottages in Stowmarket.

Members of the Association for Suffolk Museums and other invited guests heard from all eight short-listed finalists as they came up to receive a framed certificate presented by EADT editor Terry Hunt. These also included Bentwaters Cold War Museum, Suffolk Regiment Museum, Beccles and District Museum, Ipswich Museum, Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury and Melford Hall in Long Melford. The award, which was open to accredited museums throughout Suffolk, attracted an original entry of 27.

At an event deliberately designed to acknowledge all museums, whatever their size, Mr Hunt described how much he had enjoyed taking part as one of the judges.

“It was fascinating because it opened my eyes to what a rich variety of museums we have in this county, providing a fantastic service for local people and visitors to Suffolk.’’

In her opening speech, county councillor Judy Terry, whose Cabinet role encompasses museums and heritage thanked the EADT for its role in sponsoring the award and helping to highlight the diversity of what the county had to offer.

She said: “They provide a wide range of services hidden from ordinary visitors’ eyes such as museum clubs for learning disabled adults, or loan boxes for early years settings and residential centres for frail older people. They are supported by a small cohort of dedicated professional staff and over 1,000 volunteers.”

As well as encouraging more visitors, it is hoped the awards will raise public awareness of the varied and valuable work museums do and will result in more volunteers coming forward to play an active part.

More information about Suffolk’s museums can be found via the website www.suffolkmuseums.org

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