The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) has kicked off 2020 by being named as one of the top tourist attractions in the south and the recipient of a cultural grant.
The MERL was awarded a Bronze Award in the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year category at Tourism South’s Beautiful South Awards last month.
Arts Council England also announced that the museum was among a number of institutions to be awarded a share of a £2.1 million grant from its Designation Development Fund.
Isabel Hughes, Head of Curatorial and Public Engagement, and Alison Hilton, Marketing Manager, received the Tourism South award on behalf of the museum at a prestigious event in Brighton on 10 December, having faced stiff competition from other top businesses across the south to reach the final three.
Judges praised the museum for its ‘first class’ website and use of social media, as well as helpful, friendly staff and fascinating galleries.
Alison Hilton said: “We were delighted to reach the finals of the Beautiful South awards and winning the Bronze Award gives us a real opportunity to celebrate our achievements over the last year.
“We are always looking for ways to improve the museum experience for all our visitors and are very pleased that our efforts have been recognised. We are keen to act on suggestions from the judges’ reports and will continue to improve.”
The report by the judges, who carried out a ‘mystery shopper’ visit, praised the MERL for taking “what could be regarded as a rather ‘dry’ subject and turning it into a highly informative, fascinating, educational and nostalgic experience that is highly enjoyable.”
The judges called the museum “an entertaining visit which, at the same time, makes the visitor think about a subject and lifestyle which many would take for granted.”
The museum’s ‘Building Connections’ project, which aims to explore how the museum’s collections can be interpreted in different historical and social contexts, was awarded £82,000 by Art Council England’s fund.
The Designation Scheme identifies, celebrates and champions significant collections of national and international importance, recognising the importance of excellent collections, and providing funding for projects that ensure their long-term sustainability, maximise their public value and encourage the sharing of best practice across the sector.
Using the museum’s designated archive and library, alongside academic, curatorial and community expertise, the MERL hopes the project will act as a model for the museum sector and increase interest in the collections from researchers and the public.
Isabel Hughes said: “We are so pleased to have been awarded this grant by Arts Council England. The idea for the ‘Building Connections’ project came about following consistent feedback from visitors to our newly redeveloped galleries, who were keen to learn more of the details about the objects and archives on display, and the fascinating stories behind them, only a fraction of which we were able to highlight in the new displays.
“The grant will allow us to provide relevant and engaging content, both in the galleries and online, which is absolutely what museums need to be about. It will be very exciting to work with all of our users to create new digital interpretative pathways to allow visitors to explore our collections in greater depth.
“Both of these awards demonstrate the museum’s success in reaching new audiences and in securing investment in its programmes and projects, building on its recent redevelopment.”
To find out more about the MERL visit merl.reading.ac.uk/
Photo caption: (L–R) Eduardo Pereira of award sponsor Pear Communications, Alison Hilton and Isabel Hughes from the MERL, and awards’ host Simon Calder.
Photo credit: Nick Williams.