National awards success for Beamish Museum and The Bowes Museum

Beamish Museum is celebrating success with yet more UK-wide recognition for the visitor experience it offers.

The open-air attraction was one of three County Durham venues shortlisted in a total of four categories in the Museums & Heritage Awards which were announced on Wednesday night at a ceremony in London. And to its delight it won the Visitor Welcome Award, beating nationwide competition from the likes of Gloucester Cathedral and The Real Mary King's Close in Edinburgh.

The awards, which celebrate and reward the best of the museum and heritage sector, have been running since 2003 and this year involved a round of public voting for the first time. The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle was also a winner on the night.

It took the title of Cafe or Restaurant of the Year, sharing the news on Facebook and saying: "We'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who backed Café Bowes" which it said is renowned for "its locally sourced, seasonal menu and friendly team". It also had been a finalist in the Restoration or Conservation Project of the Year category for its recent renovation of its 250-year-old showpiece exhibit The Silver Swan but this was won by Sudbury Arts Centre with a project involving The Churches Conservation Trust.

And Ushaw Historic House, also in County Durham, had also made the finals, in the Partnership of the Year category for its work with a local school, but it lost out to a Portsmouth Historic Dockyard partnership between the Mary Rose Trust and Royal Navy museum.

Beamish Museum's win follows recent news of its being named the most visited attraction in the region in a report by ALVA, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Last year visitor numbers were up four per cent, to 801,756, compared with the year before.

Its Visitor Welcome Award celebrates 'the greatest visitor experience and the most welcoming atmosphere' and its chief executive Rhiannon Hiles said of the win: “We’re absolutely delighted." She said the accolade "recognises our first-class visitor experience and the warm welcome from our brilliant team of staff and volunteers" and added: "It’s great to see that our friends at The Bowes Museum were also recognised in the Café of the Year category.

“It’s an honour to receive this award, particularly among such strong competition from fantastic organisations across the country."

Making the awards, the judges said: “This winning organisation ensures a warm welcome for everyone from the moment they arrive, extending across the entire visitor journey. The judges regard it as a benchmark for what the sector should strive to achieve.”

The museum, a charity, works with regional partners and the newly-formed combined authority to attract visitors to the North East and Rhiannon said: "We’re proud to be part of our region’s amazing heritage and tourism offer, as an anchor cultural institution." She added: "We’re looking forward to many more exciting times ahead."

These include the opening this summer of the museum's 1950s cinema, toy shop and electrical shop plus the upcoming Georgian tavern, pottery and self-catering cottages. For the full list of the 2024 award winners of Museums & Heritage Awards see here.