Railway museum is rewarded for helping local regeneration

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The Independent Online

A large collection of 19th-century steam locomotives credited with triggering the regeneration of one of the country's oldest railway towns has won a prestigious heritage award.

Locomotion, the new £11m outpost of the National Railway Museum (NRM) at Shildon, near Bishop Auckland in Co Durham, featured alongside a cathedral with an Antony Gormley installation on a list of Britain's most impressive heritage sites. The Shildon museum won the Permanent Exhibition prize at the annual Museum and Heritage Awards for Excellence, sponsored by The Independent and Dulux. Since opening last September, the museum has welcomed 93,000 visitors and exceeded its financial-year target by 270 per cent. It houses the reserve collection of railway vehicles of the NRM in York.

The awards were judged by a panel of industry professionals including Sam Mullins, director of the London Transport Museum; Diane Lees, director of the Museum of Childhood in east London; Bernard Donoghue, director of government affairs at Visit Britain; and Greg Chamberlain, editor of New Heritage Magazine.

Mr Chamberlain cited winners, including the Shildon museum and the Antony Gormley installation Field for the British Isles, comprising hundreds of terracotta heads inside Gloucester Cathedral, as projects that had enlivened heritage in the country.

"The Railway Museum has been a great contributor to the regeneration of the area," he said. "As for Gloucester Cathedral, it was quite a bold decision to install the Gormley sculpture, which was formerly at Tate Modern. What it did was to bring in a lot of visitors who would not necessarily have gone into a cathedral."

He added that the 12 awards reflect the changing face of museums and heritage sites from the South Coast to the Highlands which have become "modern and cutting edge" and which attract younger viewers. Winners included south London's Dulwich Picture Gallery, nominated by the public as their favourite attraction, the NRM itself in York for its campaign to acquire the Flying Scotsman, and the Museum of Childhood's "Must-Have Toys" exhibition, which showcased the most desirable playthings.

Under the guidance of the Museums and Heritage Show, which is on at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre in London today, the awards were begun four years ago to recognise best practice in museums, galleries and heritage attractions.

The Crossness Engines Trust won the conservation award for restoring ornamental Victorian ironworks and Prince Consort, a beam engine built by the James Watt company in the 1860s. Chris Smith, the former culture minister, was recognised for his major contributions to the industry throughout his career.

Among other winners were the Petrie Museum in London, the Discovery Museum in Tyne and Wear, the "Kids in the Blitz" by Coventry Arts and Heritage, and the Continuum Group for excellence overseas in research of a historic site near Tel Aviv in Israel.