Gulbenkian Prize Readers' Poll: Time & Tide Museum Of Great Yarmouth Life

By Caroline Lewis | 17 February 2005
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Shows a photograph of children playing on a model boat at Time and Tide.

Time and Tide has seen a busy half term, evidence of its popularity. Courtesy Time and Tide.

**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 Time and Time, Museum of Great Yarmouth Life came to be on the shortlist.

Time and Tide is a new museum, in both the physical sense and in its focus on working people’s history. Opened in July 2004, it’s the product of a thoughtful 10-year planning process which involved listening to what people really want from their museum. The result is a collection of exhibits that are hands-on, personal and particular to Great Yarmouth, making the museum brilliantly popular with locals as well as tourists.

“It took a long time to come about, looking at whether the building could be converted and waiting for the money,” says Rachel Kirk, Area Museums Officer for Great Yarmouth. “It was 2002 when we finally got the money but we didn’t just sit around while we were waiting – we carried out huge amounts of public consultation… which is why it’s so popular.”

Shows a photograph of an elderly couple looking into a door in a recreated street at Time and Tide Museum.

The Row takes visitors back to Yarmouth in 1913. Courtesy Time and Tide.

The museum is housed in a Victorian herring curing works which ceased trading in the late 1980s – an apt setting for the celebration of Great Yarmouth’s maritime and fishing heritage.

Rachel emphasises that Time and Tide, which replaced a maritime museum on the seafront, really is about Great Yarmouth life: “We know the ‘big’ history, but people are interested in the personal side of things, real people’s stories. For instance, we looked at World War Two – Great Yarmouth was badly bombed. It could have ended up being the same as other museums, but we asked people for their own memories.”

The museum is also unusual in that it is situated in an area of deprivation, where there is high unemployment, especially in winter. In contrast to Coventry’s revamped Transport Museum, the immediate area hasn’t had the benefit of a millennial makeover. Yet Time and Tide has aimed to give inhabitants a sense of communal identity and self esteem.

“Something we have done is tried to benefit local people,” explains Rachel. “We have a big tourist trade in the summer, but what will make or break it is whether local people come to visit during the whole year.”

Shows a photograph of a woman and a young boy playing with an interactive fishing display at Time and Tide.

The museum uses lo-tech interactive exhibits, avoiding the common problem of broken hi-tech things. Courtesy Time and Tide.

There are two schemes to attract residents of Great Yarmouth. Buying one ticket means visitors can come back for free and local residents can apply for half price tickets.

“We’re really pleased with the response: 500 people have applied. That may not sound like a lot, but it is when you think that this area isn’t made up of typical museum-goers.”

What does Rachel think impressed the Gulbenkian panel enough to shortlist Time and Tide?

“The building itself is amazing and we haven’t tried to modernise or covered it up,” she says, “it’s very exposed. There aren’t any false ceilings – it’s all high quality work, a good conversion.

“And the displays are very good. They’re very, very varied,” she continues. “We’ve arranged it so people don’t get exhausted and desensitised as they go round. We’ve also gone all out on interpretation methods.”

Audio guides are used for people’s personal stories of Great Yarmouth and “all the things you can’t get on a text panel”, says Rachel. Fine art is also used, for example, illustrating wreck and rescue.

Shows a photograph of two visitors looking at a display at Time and Tise, which features a model seagull and a mannequin seemingly pulling on a rope and pulley.

The museum tells the story of Great Yarmouth from prehistoric times to the present day, covering its role as a port and a holiday destination. Courtesy Time and Tide.

“It’s all come from the public consultation,” she says, “what people have wanted. We’ve really taken risks.” One of the things requested that the professionals weren’t sure about is the 1913 Row, a reconstructed alleyway based on one from Great Yarmouth’s medieval street plan.

“It could have gone badly wrong,” says Rachel, “like a theme park, but it’s actually enabled us to get collections of normal, everyday things on show. It’s a nice way of telling people’s stories.”

The pawnbrokers on the Row means that interpretation can focus on why a fisherman might have to pawn something after a bad catch.

“People can touch things, as well. People could pocket them, but they don’t – they appreciate being trusted!”

Rachel thinks Time and Tide should win because the long realisation process has all been worth it, creating a better museum in the long run. The 24 Hour Museum was speaking to Rachel on the day the museum invited people to celebrate its Gulbenkian shortlisting and the turnout proved its popularity. “In fact, it’s been heaving all half term,” she says.

Shows a photograph of some children playing on a model boat at Time and Tide.

The 20 metre mast holding the courtyard canopy has made a new visual landmark in Great Yarmouth. Courtesy Time and Tide.

The prize money would be spent on more audio guides, interactives and developing two rooms of the Row which are not yet done.

On winning the Gulbenkian, Rachel says: “It would be good for Yarmouth, having a museum of national standard. Being a seaside resort means people in Yarmouth can lose a sense of identity. Now they can say our museum’s as good as yours.”

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win the Gulbenkian Prize 2005.

To vote for Time and Tide, 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 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**

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: