The new frontage at Coventry Transport Museum has pulled in more visitors, including locals. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**
Between now and March, judges will be visiting the museums shortlisted for the UK’s largest arts prize, the third Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year.
Here at the 24 Hour Museum, we want to know who you think should win the prize. Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum you think should receive the £100,000, or read on to find out how Coventry Transport Museum came to be on the shortlist.
Trusty Triumphs, double-deckers, black taxicabs – there are some pretty special modes of transport in Britain. So it’s only right that a museum celebrating British transport, situated in city where so many motor vehicles were manufactured, should be a pretty special museum.
Interactives have changed the museum inside. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
However, Coventry Transport Museum, which houses incredible collections of British vehicles, was not exactly the Rolls Royce of museums — until recently. Opened in 1980 as the Museum of British Road Transport, it was only in March 2004 that the museum stopped trundling along nicely and swung into top gear as a major visitor draw following a £7.5 million redevelopment.
Development Officer Lucy Rumble explains: “We had a very low key entrance in a Coventry back street. Now we have a great new frontage in a new events arena in the city. It is part of a regeneration programme – the whole area round it was getting a new public face.”
The new, unmissable frontage looks out onto Millennium Place and has proved a magnet for visitors. The name change reflects the emphasis of the museum, too, as well as being simpler.
The museum has become a jewel in the region, part of a regeneration of the whole area. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
“The museum is really social history oriented,” says Lucy. “98 per cent of our collection was built in Coventry and we wanted to tell the story of the people who worked in the industry, the people it’s impacted, bring across that perspective much more strongly.”
The British motor industry is said to have been born in Coventry, with names such as Daimler and Volkswagen amongst the 100 plus firms setting up in the city. The museum’s social history slant – making heard the voices of the people who made the industry – is consistent with this year’s apparent theme in the Gulbenkian shortlist: industrial or working class history.
“It’s been tremendously successful in terms of visitor feedback,” says Lucy. From annual visits of 120,000, the number has grown to more than double that, with 180,000 coming within the 6 months of the relaunch. The “shiny, bright” new frontage has drawn in many for the first time, including locals, while interactives within the museum have improved the experience greatly.
Two girls go Back to the Future in the Futures Gallery. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
“It’s made a tremendous impact,” continues Lucy. “The breadth of the visitors has increased – people’s perceptions of a transport museum have been challenged. We tend to think of older men, enthusiasts… But we have more visitors under the age of 30 than above. It’s a very interactive, family experience.”
There are four new galleries in the museum, which explore the history of transport from the 1860s to the 1940s and the 1950s to the 1970s, when Coventry’s boom tailed off. Visitors can design their own car in the Icons Gallery and see super-fast cars Thrust SSC and Thrust2 – holders of the World Land Speed Record (test drives not included). The Futures Gallery deals with the latest issues in transport, like life after fossil fuels.
They don't make them like they used to. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
So how do Lucy and the museum staff feel about being on the shorlist?
“We’re absolutely thrilled to have been shortlisted – we’ve been recognised for all our hard work,” she says. “We want to get as many people into the museum, to enjoy it, as we can and we’ve made a big inroad into achieving that. It’s a massive achievement – going from a back streets, little entrance to being right up there on the map as one of the main visitor attractions in the West Midlands."
I like the way the chief executive put it in our application – going from being a hidden gem to a jewel in the regional map.”
Slug, a 2096 concept car on show in the Futures Gallery. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
And winning the prize?
“It would give us the confidence,” continues Lucy, “to do bigger, brighter things… When they walk through the door, people’s perceptions of a transport museum change – it’s not what they thought it would be. This is an exciting, dynamic place, devoted to the history of our city.”
The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win the Gulbenkian Prize 2005.
To vote for Coventry Transport Museum, click here.
Between now and March, we will have features on each of the shortlisted museums, so if you haven’t decided who to vote for yet, make sure to read all about it on the 24 Hour Museum.
To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.
**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**