National Heritage for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket crowned Suffolk Museum of the Year.

The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket took the Suffolk Museum o

The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket took the Suffolk Museum of the Year crown. - Credit: Archant

The National Heritage for Horseracing and Sporting Art, at Palace House, in Newmarket, is the Suffolk Museum of the Year.

It was crowned the winner at a special awards ceremony held at the University of Suffolk, this week.

The annual awards have been running since 2012 and are organised by the Association for Suffolk Museums, partnered by the East Anglian Daily Times, BBC Radio Suffolk and the University of Suffolk.

This year saw the largest ever entry to the competition, in part thanks to the Association for Suffolk Museums’ successful Summer in Suffolk Museums initiative, which saw museums offering a huge variety of activities and events for family audiences over the school holidays.

Suffolk County councillor Richard Smith, cabinet member for finance and transformation, pointed to the increased impact museums were making on the county’s growth, through inward investment and tourism, and on people’s health and well-being through their volunteering, and social activity programmes. He paid tribute to the relatively small group of dedicated professional staff and over 1,600 volunteers who work in Suffolk’s museums, alongside a wider network of loyal visitors and supporters.

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Opened by The Queen, in November 2016, the National Heritage Centre has had a successful first year and is fast becoming a cultural hub for Newmarket and the racing industry. Over the historic five acre site visitors can enjoy a museum that explores the history of horseracing from its origins to the present day, a gallery of British Sporting Art, temporary exhibitions, The Tack Room restaurant, a gift shop and the most popular attraction – the live horses.

In the first year of opening the Heritage Centre has attracted over 28,000 visitors; it has been awarded Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation status, was an Art Fund Museum of the Year Finalist and now has been awarded the Suffolk Museum of the Year Prize. Community engagement is a very important aspect of the National Heritage Centre with over 100 volunteers who play an integral part of the successful running of the site. A number of successful family events and activities have been delivered throughout the year which will continue in 2018.

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Chris Garibaldi, the director of the centre, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have won Suffolk Museum of the Year - it is a validation of so much hard work on the part of our staff, volunteers and trustees over such a sustained period to restore the Palace House site and create a world-class visitor experience. It echoes so much of the feedback from our visitors - whether horse racing is your passion or if you know nothing about it and think you have little interest, you will find something to spark your imagination. We’ve worked intensively to provide a fantastic experience for visitors of all ages and I think that approach is recognised in this award.”

And Rachel Hood, chair of Trustees, added: “It is superb news that the National Heritage Centre has received the Suffolk Museum of the Year Award. This is an incredible achievement by our director, Chris Garibaldi, and all the staff, volunteers and Trustees, particularly bearing in mind that we have been open to the public for less than a year. The offer at the National Heritage Centre is fantastically diverse and there really is something to entertain every member of the family, no matter what their area of interest is in horseracing. This award underlines the importance of restoring a nationally significant heritage site in the heart of Newmarket and celebrates our unique cultural position across the arts, sciences and sport. We hope that this achievement will encourage people to come and see what is on offer at our outstanding National Heritage Centre.”

Suffolk Museum development and partnership manager, Jayne Austin, said: “The main aim of the awards is to raise the public profile of all the many fascinating museums we have in Suffolk. Museums play an important role in their communities. They also add to Suffolk’s appeal and charm and as such are a real asset to the local economy.

“Many of Suffolk’s smaller museums are run by volunteers who put in a tremendous effort to care for their collections and preserve local heritage for a whole range of different audiences to enjoy. It will be exciting to hear the announcement of the winners, but important that we celebrate the success of all Suffolk Museums.”

What the judges said:

Having relocated to a brand new home in Newmarket’s historic Palace House and former stable yards, this museum was only officially opened (by its Royal patron HM the Queen) a year ago. What impressed the judges most about it was the “interesting, well presented displays, which tell stories in ways that appeal to a wider audience - including those whose primary interest may not lie with horse-racing”.

They found “lots to see and do”, commended the “excellent programme of temporary exhibitions” and praised the “brilliant use of stables as gallery areas” (which include the chance to experience a ride on a racehorse simulator).

They found staff and volunteers to be welcoming across the five acre site and enjoyed meeting the retired steeplechaser “on duty” to introduce the section on the retraining of racehorses.

Palace House is open from 10am to 5pm daily.

General admission is £12, children (five to 16) £7, family (two adults and four children) £35.

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