The search for Britain’s most family-friendly museum is traditionally a hot contest, but this year’s competition has produced a dead heat.
The tiny Brixham Heritage Museum, a much-loved maritime museum above a former police station in Torbay, has proved inseparable from the Horniman Museum and Gardens, the sprawling south London haven of tranquil lawns and exotic exhibits.
© Horniman Museum and Gardens
Founded as a history society at the end of 1957, Brixham’s heritage group opened their museum the following year with the aim of promoting the town’s past. They moved into their current home almost 30 years ago, having originally been based in a former pilchard press.
“That two such different museums in every way have been chosen as offering the very best welcome just shows how any museum can do it,” says Damian Dibben, the bestselling children’s author and Patron of Kids in Museums.
“It doesn’t matter how little or large you are, how important or wonderfully eclectic your collection is or how close you are to the capital.
“It’s about how you greet, meet and involve families and children. And any museum can do that well.”
Dibben feels the judges’ decision is a “clear signal” of the improving inclusivity of venues. More than 140 were nominated this year, with the winners based solely on visitor comments.
“I’d never been a passionate museum visitor but Brixham Museum totally changed my point of view,” enthused one of them.
“The children are always excited at the prospect of visiting. The latest addition of sand tables with hidden bones and dinosaurs is their new favourite.”
At the Horniman, visitors praised the museum’s instruments, parklands, insects and resident walrus.
“We welcome thousands of families each year,” says Director Janet Vitmayer.
“Our aim is not only to make their visits rich and enjoyable, but also to help foster a lifelong love of the arts and culture in our younger visitors.
“To be recognised by families themselves for this award is the greatest prize.”
Dea Birkett, the passionate Director of Kids in Museums, says the Horniman has “always been a big hitter” for “pioneering” activities.
“Family friendliness touches everything the museum does, whether it’s the lower handrail for kids to hold on to going down the stairs to the packed-out regular storytelling sessions.
“They prove that a world class collection and catering to families goes hand in hand.”
Culture24’s Anra Kennedy, who helped the judging panel reach their nailbiting decision, praises both winners for providing “wonderful experiences” in “imaginative, friendly” fashion.
“Each year the quality and quantity of award nominations increases and the judging gets harder,” she admitted.
“These two museums tackle all manner of subjects, from musical instruments and Ice Age fossils to cutting edge contemporary art and temperance teacups.”
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