04 February 2008

Could try harder

Sadly, Sunday was not one of our finer excursions. It was cold, grey and miserable, so we thought we'd amuse M by going to look at some trains (Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is still inordinately popular). We'd really enjoyed the National Railway Museum in York, so off we scampered to Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon.

Hey, it was free. How bad could it be?


How to annoy your visitors:
  • Have a museum full of engines/carriages etc etc to look at, but not one that you can clamber about on. Try constantly explaining that to a two-year-old - it's fun!
  • Don't open the all-day visitor cafe until the end of March, but advertise its existence on all your leaflets. That'll really, really piss them off, especially if they arrive on a Sunday lunchtime expecting to get a nice cup of coffee and a bit of lunch.
  • Have lots of interactive displays...but don't repair them. See two-year-old comment above.
We just weren't impressed. It's a museum for people who really really like trains, and want to go and see rolling stock SE9783242 so they can tick it off their list. There's really not a lot to do apart from wander round admiringly...and if you're not that fussed about the trains in the first place, then you'll get bored alarmingly quickly.

Sadly, lovely though Shildon may be, there didn't appear to be a lot else on offer on a dank Sunday in February either. So we came home and (a) had some food and (b) did some fingerpainting with purple, yellow and green paint. Which was far more fun.


Peer Lawther said...

Hi Rach,

Came across this post via Google and thought I should respond and apologise for the issues you had at Locomotion the other day on behalf of the museum (I work for their parent company NMSI).

Since you posted the museum has restored the Woolmer locomotive which is now on display at the museum and the locomotive cab is accessible to visitors - if you return you and M will be able to clamber away now!

Most of the vehicles on display are part of the national collection and are unique, so for your safety and the long term preservation of these items we have to limit access to the locomotive cabs sadly. However, if you're interested we hold "Cab It" events which allow visitors to access the cabs of some of the locomotives on display; these occur twice yearly (watch out for mentions in the local press).

The café is soon to be re-opened under new management which is likely to be the reason why it was closed on this occasion, however this issue should soon be rectified as we prepare to launch the new café in the near future.

The interactive displays are regularly checked and undergo regular maintenance to keep them in good working order and any that were not operating on this occasion will have been scheduled for repair.

Locomotion targets both the family and enthusiast market, we operate steam train rides on special events days and we have many attractions for children including special events including Santa Specials, toy fairs, art and craft activities and groovy science experiments and storytelling sessions plus much more! All of our buildings are easily accessible for visitors with push chairs and we have good baby changing facilities and an outdoor children’s play area so hopefully you'll give us (or the National Railway Museum) another chance soon :-)

I think your experience was a "perfect storm" of everything not proceeding to plan all in one day - however if you would like to return in the future then you're very welcome. Regards!

rach said...

Peer - thanks for the reply. We might try the museum again, but to be honest I'd far rather make the trip to York again.

We had a great time at the railway museum - and the thing that made the biggest impression on my two-year-old was the Shinkansen. We've heard such a lot about it since - how the seats had flip up tables, how you could watch a film, how it went really fast...it was such a hit because it was tactile, interactive, you could go inside it...all the things that matter to a two-year old.

I'm not sure one locomotive cab to look round at Shildon is really going to cut it. I realise that access to some things is restricted for preservation reasons, but in the end you have to ask who are you restoring them for? If you don't grab your two-year-old now, they're not going to be interested in later life.

And if preservation is the bee-all and end-all (and to be honest, you have to ask how delicate can a train engine can be - were they not designed with heavy usage in mind?!), then why not consider some mock-ups, or putting things of 'lesser' importance on display as well that can be looked round properly (another big hit at York was just a cattle-wagon, that you could walk into), so that kids can get a hands-on experience?

The rest of the museum in Shildon, as you rightly point out, was very family friendly - great loos, great playground etc etc. It's just a shame that the things on display didn't live up to that.