A NORTH East museum is poised to smash the half million visitor barrier for the first time in more than 20 years.
It was back in 1990 that more than 500,000 visitors last passed through the gates of Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham in a single year.
But museum bosses are confident that number will be surpassed in this financial year.
Museum spokeswoman Jacki Winstanley said that, depending on the weather during January, the museum was hopeful of topping the 500,000 visitor mark by the end of this month.
She explained that the museum’s new financial year begins on February 1, and not April 1 as in many organisations, to avoid a situation where Easter can fall twice within one financial year and not at all in the next, therefore skewing visitor figures.
Museum director Richard Evans, in a report to local councillors who are members of the Beamish Museum Joint Committee, said: “A good start to the Christmas season was reported.
“Figures showed that the Museum were ahead of budget on visitor numbers for November and they were on track for receiving 500,000 visitors for the year.
“Admissions income was slightly down but still ahead of forecast. The fish and chip shop was producing a surplus of £100,000 and creating nine jobs. Bonfire Night was very successful and attracted 3,500 visitors. Thanks were given to the police and fire and rescue services for their support.”
Mr Evans recently unveiled plans for the 1950s to join the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras as part of a new display in Beamish.
A cinema, theatre, shopping arcade and trolley bus are all part of future plans included in a £25m development strategy running from this year up to 2025.
And later this year, the museum expects to open a brass band practice hall which is being rebuilt after it was pulled down at Hetton-le-Hole, near Sunderland.
Friends of Beamish Museum have a target of raising £50,000 through a Buy a Brick campaign and Hetton Band, which amalgamated with Durham Colliery Bands, is keen to play in the hall again when it opens at Beamish, hopefully this spring.
The 100-year-old practice hall was taken down from South Market Street, in Hetton-le-Hole, and moved, brick by brick, to Beamish.
Jim Rees, Museum Curator, said: “It’s a wonderful way to provide a focus for the North East’s love of the music of colliery bands and it is a physical reminder of that rich tradition.
“People and bands can come and use it, and we can show that tradition to our visitors and celebrate it and encourage it going forward.”