THE region’s biggest tourist attraction is looking to the past for dramatic future growth after upping its visitor numbers by 200,000 in three years and investing £4m in new attractions.
Beamish Museum expects to invest £20m over the next decade, push its sales up by nearly half in the next five years and take on another 100 staff at the same time.
It attracted a record 497,000 people to its site near Stanley, County Durham, last year, after suffering a lengthy period of stagnating visitor numbers.
Three years ago the open-air attraction regularly drew around 300,000 people through its gates, but was struggling to generate enough cash to pay for the rising cost of running the museum.
Museum director Richard Evans said that three years ago the attraction was not making enough money to employ its 175-strong workforce and there was a danger that redundancies would be made if the business did not rapidly change its fortunes.
He said: “We reviewed the business and decided to re-invest much of our earnings which saw the opening of new attractions, including a fish and chip shop in the pit village last year.
“We also extended our opening season into autumn and winter and re-assessed the value that the ticket presents.
“We introduced a new deal whereby a visitor pays once for Beamish and gets in for a whole year. This encourages local people to come back as well as people from outside the region.
“We’ve spent £4m in the last three years to improve the experience of visiting Beamish. We’ve invested in the entrance building, an introductory show, a communal bread oven and we’re working on the restoration of a medieval church which we took down from Eston in Teesside.
“We’re working at the moment on a full-sized town bakery which will open next year and we’ve recently bought a steam-powered Edwardian fairground.”
The museum has seen its turnover grow from £4m to £7m in three years and expanded its workforce from 175 to 275, making it one of the biggest employers in the Stanley area.
It is making a healthy profit, which is being reinvested back into the museum, with a new attraction being created every year.
As part of its ambitious plan to spend £20m on new attractions over the next 10 years, the museum is planning to introduce a 1950s town which will be developed on site over the next decade.
Evans said: “We’ve collected prefabricated buildings from Gateshead from the 1950s era to set about building a new town which is part of a wider plan starting next year.
“We are fortunate that we currently occupy less than half of our 350-acre site here at Beamish so space really isn’t an issue. We want to grow our turnover to £10m and employ 100 more people in the next five years and we can only do that through expansion.
“We’re also looking to accommodate people in the museum so visitors can stay in either a pit cottage or a Georgian house.
“We currently have 400,000 schoolchildren a year coming to Beamish and we want to grow that number in the coming years.
“They are ambitious plans but we’ve achieved so much in three years I see no reason why we can’t achieve them.”