And the winner of Suffolk’s ‘museum of the year’ is...the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket
- Credit: Gregg Brown
It was a night to celebrate Suffolk’s ‘hidden gems’ at the annual Suffolk Museum of the Year competition, sponsored by the East Anglian Daily Times.
Readers voted for their favourite local museums and then the judging panel made the final choice from a shortlist of seven.
The winning museum was the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, so much a hidden gem at times that Lisa Harris, collections and interpretations manager, said she had met people who were born and bred in Stowmarket who still refused to believe its 75-acre site actually exists!
Happily, the judges, and all those who voted for MEAL knew that it does, and the museum was praised for its excellent visitor experience, warm and helpful staff and exquisite Victorian walled garden.
“Come and visit us if you haven’t already,” she said.
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Also honoured were Bentwaters Cold War Museum, which received the special award, principally for the way they made a point of really listening to visitor feedback and for all they have done to provide a fantastic experience for adults and children alike.
“It really means a lot to us to win this,” said volunteer Karen Haynes.
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“We’ve all got full-time jobs and would love to be open more, but we do the very best we can with the resources we have.
“If only we could just get some funding so we could get a full-time member of staff and could be open every day.”
Bearing in mind the Cold War is now on the school curriculum, Karen said they couldn’t help but wonder why funding was such a struggle, or why local headteachers weren’t begging for Bentwaters volunteers to come and give presentations in their schools about Bentwaters’ pivotal role in the conflict.
“We’re happy to come in with our powerpoint to any school that wants to see us, but so far none of the heads we’ve contacted have got back to us,” said volunteer Bob Hale.
“Hopefully, some will read this and be in touch as we would love to do our bit to help.”
Another winner was Southwold museum, which received the Merit award for its excellent use of a small space, in particular the provision it makes for children, with a brilliant, interactive display where they can pull objects out of little drawers, place them on a screen and are then given lots of information about them.
It was Southwold museum’s Simon Loftus who used the term ‘hidden gem’.
“It’s a term true of so many of us,” he said, “but we’re working on it.”
Bentwaters also won the best object award for its mural of an A10, an imagining by Ipswich artist Geoffrey Pleasance of what might have happened if the Cold War had actually escalated into open conflict.
Other shortlisted nominees were: Lowestoft Maritime Museum, Felixstowe Museum, Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich and Moyse’s Hall in Bury St Edmunds. The main award was handed over by John Stark, representing last year’s winner, The Mid Suffolk Light Railway museum.
“Winning has made a huge difference to us,” he said.
“Visitor numbers are up and it also provides a bit of validation and appreciation for all our wonderful volunteers. It really keeps you going on a wet Wednesday afternoon!”
The ceremony at UCS on Monday night was presented by Lesley Dolphin, from BBC Radio Suffolk, who, along with the EADT, has promoted the competition throughout. Speakers included Dr Will Thomas, from Suffolk Business School, and Cllr Sarah Stamp, portfolio holder from Suffolk county council.
Judges were museum experts Bridget Yates and Anita Beresford-Webb. Liz Nice, managing editor of the EADT, was also on the judging panel. The competition is organised by the Association for Suffolk Museums.