Worrying trends for Crich Tramway Village

The latest edition of the Tramway Museum Society’s quarterly Journal, contains some rather worrying statistics regarding the performance of Crich Tramway Village during 2012. Although generally hailed as a fantastic season by tram enthusiasts with many excellent events held at the museum, visitor numbers have declined to their lowest level since records began way back in 1968, and volunteer numbers are also a serious cause for concern.

After a steady reduction over many years, the number of paying visitors at the museum last year was just 75,831. The attendance numbers at most special events was lower than in 2011, the only notable exception being the Edwardian Weekend in July, which was blessed by fine weather. Of course, many of the factors which are being blamed for the drop in visitor numbers cannot be blamed on the TMS. Poor weather, interest in TV coverage of the 2012 London Olympic Games, and the recession have not helped matters, and indeed many tourist attractions are struggling, with some even forced to close for good. Camelot Theme Park has reportedly closed down after 29 years of trading, indictaing that Crich is not the only business in the region which is struggling to attract custom.

What is perhaps more worrying, is that little is seemingly being done to reverse this trend of decline. Although many attractions are seeing a decline in visitor numbers, the depressing trend is not a universal one; Beamish Museum continue to go from strength to strength, and the relatively new Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster has seen a considerable upturn in visitors over the last 12 months, no doubt helped by a major programme of investment. Plans to appoint a new General Manager to oversee operation of the Crich Tramway Village are now close to becoming a reality with 37 applicants expressing interest in the position. The TMS’ priority for the year ahead must be to ensure that the museum does not join the ranks of those attractions which are being forced to consider closure as a serious option for their futures.

The news regarding volunteer numbers is little better, with around 20% of available platform staff duties unfulfilled in 2012, compared with around one in eight duties in 2011. This inevitably dilutes the visitor experience somewhat by reducing the number of trams which can run on any one day. Just two trams ran on most operating days, and when three cars were rostered, one of these was often Berlin 3006 running without a conductor due to a shortage of crews. The TMS hope that providing improved accomodation for working members at Field House will help to improve matters, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the case.

It is also disapointing that the TMS do not always make the best of their positive achievements. The new Society Journal features surprisingly little coverage of the highly acclaimed ‘Glasgow 50’ event, with the front cover photo instead given over to a night-time shot of trams in the depot, and the back cover featuring London Transport 1622 in the mist at Town End. Despite being voted the best tram event of last year by readers of British Trams Online and being similarly acclaimed by another prominent tram enthusiasts’ website, just four pages of pictures are given over to this event, and the rare daylight appearances of Brussels snow broom 96 and New York 674 are not even considered worthy of a mention. Surely the TMS should be shouting about such great events, to encourage those who did not attend to visit future events by showing them what they missed? Admittedly most enthusiasts will not pay to enter the site, but are more likely to spend money in the gift shop than many visitors, or even become working volunteers, so it is extremely important to encourage such people to visit the museum.

Despite the negative tone of this article, your writer very much hopes that the National Tramway Museum’s fortunes will begin to improve and that the appointment of a new Manager will mark the beginning of a new, more positive era for the TMS. Despite the depressing statistics mentioned above, there was a lot to celebrate at Crich in 2012 with some of the best events held there – or indeed at any museum tramway – for many years, and new arrivals joining the running fleet. Hopefully this momentum will continue during 2013 and word will continue to spread that Crich is a fantastic place to visit, particularly amongst the tram enthusiast community who seemed far more positive towards the museum in 2012 than had been the case for quite some time.

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24 Responses to Worrying trends for Crich Tramway Village

  1. GWR says:

    Yes it is very sad that visitor numbers to Crich are so much down. The magazine ‘Heritage Railways’ in their recent edition state that most heritage railways were down by 5% – 10% on income in 2012. Unfortunately the visitor numbers and income at Crich seem to be down much more than this average. Those who spoke for changes at the EGM last year highlighted that there are a number of fundamental management problems at Crich which have accumulated over a number of years. I hope that the EGM was not in vein and that these problems are now being addressed with urgency. No one will volunteer to help in any organisation if there is an ingrained an ‘us and them’ attitude present, which seemed to be the theme of several of those who spoke at the AGM, at which I was present.

  2. stuart cooke says:

    My main grumble regarding visiting Crich is not knowing which trams will be in service , if they had theme days for specific areas or towns one would know what trams are likely to be out .

    • Anonymous says:

      But they have to factor in the weather and whether or not trams are operational or not. They can’t decide the day before and in the morning is almost too late to make much of an impact unfortunately.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think a lot of the problems can be put down to the weather. If you are going to visit a museum for a day trip and it’s raining the National Tramway Museum isn’t going to be your top choice. On a sunny day the views are brilliant on an open to car so if there’s better weather next year then they should do a lot better especially as the Olympics aren’t going to be in the way when the weather picks up.
    Still there are other factors that have contributed to the decline in visitor numbers which evidently need to be addressed.
    I do hope that figures increase, it’s a brilliant place.

  4. Geoff. Stones says:

    I like Crich,i visited 6 times in 2012,but i can never understand why trams are shoe horned into the depot with barely enough room for the public to see them when the depot fan remains empty.Surely 2/3 could be brought outside for the public to view them when conditions are favourable.There are surely enough trams available to create themes on the depot fan most summer weekends as with the Glasgow event.

  5. nigel says:

    If I could offer my thoughts, Crich is not easy to get to by public transport. Perhaps if they were to run a heritage shuttle bus to say matlock and well advertise it , I for one as would many others I know who do not have cars etc, would use it.

    It would also be better if it was inconjunction with such a service be better advertised.

    Its not difficult to get to matlock from manchester with connecting bus services from Buxton.

    It really is not the easiest place to get to.

  6. Ian Buck says:

    Quite honestly I am not surprised. We stopped off at Crich on the way to a short holiday in Derbyshire last year. It was a while since we had last visited. Three trams were running one of them 3006. As we had visited Berlin in DDR days we headed straight for this one. The driver then spent almost the whole trip whingeing about why he was on his own, the history of the tram that he delivered was incorrect and he seemed to take great pleasure in telling us what we were not allowed to do.
    Overall we both got a bad impression of Crich generally and felt that we were just “punters” there to spend our money. Aside from it being difficult to get to we shall not be rushing back.
    However, we also visited Heaton Park, Beamish and the Black Country Museum last year. All totally different, friendly, happy and informed staff – even got our money back at Beamish for our bus fare! Can’t wait to return.

  7. freel07 says:

    Very worrying and Andrew raises some good points about not blowing their own trumpet enough. My only comment about the use of the Journal for this purpose is that in the main it only reaches members and they wouldn’t contribute to the entrance revenue.

    The more worrying comment is that by Ian above. If someone who has a fairly obvious interest and therefore a good reason to visit came away with such a poor impression what would a ‘normal’ visitor make of the experience?

    Displaying trams in the depot fan would make for ‘atmosphere’ but would probably need supervision and require extra valuable volunteer labour.

    Achieving the right balance between what a family of non-enthusiasts expect and what the camera carrying tram buff ( and I count myself in this category) would wish to see and shoot is very difficult I guess. It’s a vicious circle isn’t it. Dwindling visitors reduce funds available for development and this causes dwindling visitor numbers etc etc. I do think that perhaps more attention on alternative activities and slightly less on restoring ‘new’ trams may give a better return overall even if it isn’t what we the tramway fraternity want. Remember most of us are probably members and don’t pay to get in.

  8. Pete C says:

    In the present economic climate with many people’s budgets very stretched, it is not surprising that there is a general decline in visiting museums and heritage sites. As further tax and benefit changes take effect, the situation is likely to get worse. Only those places which offer visitors a top-rate experience are likely to do reasonably well. Unfortunately, as others have said, Crich isn’t the easiest place to get to, which doesn’t help. To counteract this, it needs to make some improvements, including some of the things others have suggested above.

    Regarding volunteers, that is something every voluntary organisation suffers from. There are too many organisations and not enough people interested in volunteering, so inevitably some organisations will go to the wall. Hopefully Crich won’t be one of them.

  9. Deckerman says:

    Whilst the weather, the economy and the lack of easy public transport will all be factors, many other similar places have very similar issues to contend with, but somehow they seem to have either far less of a drop in numbers, or even, a rise in visitors, so I think what has already been touched on, is more likely to be certainly a, if not the, reason.

    I have previously mentioned the “us and them” attitude of Crich, that is all to easily obvious to visitors, regarding not only the public but also even the enthusiasts that deign to mucky their lovely polished trams with their great unwashed boots and bottoms, but was advised that I was wrong about that. Perhaps I wasn’t as wrong as I was advised!!

    What Crich forget is that those “great unwashed” pay their wages and/or enable them to be open again next April, to play with their lovely 12 inch to the foot Hornby tram set!!

    Other places, such as Birkenhead, Beamish and Dudley, I feel, do as good, if not a better job of their restorations and usually run more spectacular events. But, here’s the rub, they actually look after their guests so that they really WANT to come back, and fundamentally, then tell others to do so as well.
    If an enthusiast, as was stated above, felt badly done to, who is perhaps going to be more forgiving than mummy, daddy and 2.4 kiddies will, what hope have the great British public of wanting to return.

    No, there HAS to be a sea change there and I just don’t think it has it in it.

    There are also too many other places that the public have more of an affinity with now, even if they did manage to sort it, so I’ll await the thinning out programme , ( seems to be a run on them at the moment. BTS, LTT etc) or the closing down sale with some regret, but to be honest with you, not a lot of surprise.

  10. Ken walker says:

    It seems that the Management at Crich need to be reminded that they have 2 priceless groups of assets under their control, which they seem not to value very highly. The first is the trams themselves,which various groups and individuals have gone to the trouble and expense of rescuing from the scrap men. The second is the (dwindling numbers of ) individuals who give their time freely to enable these vehicles to be restored and to run. There is of course a 3rd priceless group which is not under their control, namely Joe Public. It seems from what I see that they are quite happy to run the museum down with the “them and us” attitude that several people have alluded to. If the “Top Brass” can’t treat these 3 groups with due respect, then they shouldn’t be in their jobs. Simple.

    • David Holt says:

      May I nominate another asset, which is routinely overlooked? It is of course the tramway itself, in other words the track and overhead which were so skilfully and economically crafted together out of heritage material by dedicated and caring volunteers.
      Yesterday I attended a talk on the Lynton and Barnstable Railway, in which stress was laid on the esteem in which volunteers are held. I can hardly imagine that, one day in the future when all the L&B tracklaying has been completed, the volunteer PWay people will be despicably scorned into having to resign. Why should I say that? Because that’s exactly what happened at Crich in 1998 to the volunteer PWay team who had created the tramway from nothing – so if you want to know how far back the rot goes, it goes at least that far back.

      • Andrew Waddington says:

        I think that this discussion has probably run its course now, and I feel that people airing their individual grieviances with Crich (and other museums) is not going to help anybody – in fact it could be quite damaging to museums’ reputations. Therefore further comments on this matter will be heavily moderated. I’d also like to encourage readers who have had a bad experience at ANY tramway, to mention that to the organisation concerned at the time, rather than spread it about on the internet as seems to be the trend, both on this site and elsewhere. Whilst British Trams Online will publish negative articles where appropriate, this one seems to have degenerated into a slagging match!

        • Deckerman says:

          Andrew, Whilst I FULLY agree with your statement regarding this thread probably having run it’s course, I did exactly that, regarding advising the people at Crich and even in person, at the time that I first saw the “us and them” ethos starting there and it resulted in me tearing up my membership card in front of the individuals that not only instigated the ethos, but actually reveled in it.

          So, sadly, certainly whilst they continue in residence, which on the whole they do, I see little hope for the organisation. And no, I have not re-joined yet either!! And probably never will!

  11. John Jone says:

    This news saddens me and although I have not visited Crich for many years due to living abroad I did see information about the Emergency General Meeting due to a concerned friend sending me some papers on an e mail for advice.
    What I have read here seems to suggest that those members who called the meeting may have been right. If so is management at Crich in denial of these problems? If so the TMS needs new management immediately.

  12. freel07 says:

    I expect there is more to the problems than those of us on here know. The Board will have 2 potentially conflicting issues to deal with, namely running what is a business and at the same time trying to ensure that the volunteers feel their contributions are valued. As in any business the workforce, in this case mainly volunteers, need to feel wanted and unless communications is good and effective they can quickly feel isolated. I suspect that this may be a big part of the problem. There is not enough visibility of the medium to long term business plan. Disgruntled staff are likely to portray their dissatisfaction in the way they deal with customers. We all see that daily in supermarkets and other businesses. Of course the flip side is that the Board are also only volunteers with other personal commitments. If and when the new manager is appointed he or she will need to quickly build up a relationship with both board and volunteers (and of course paid staff). They will need to become a link between the board and the working members to try to heal the rift. The board will have to trust the manager and listen to him/her.

  13. chris pheasey says:

    Having been a member for twenty years this year was the final straw.I called at the museum in July for my birthday tram ride (a long standing tradition).I was informed by the crew of Leeds 399 that it would be 30 minutes before the next departure so to pass time I went to the exhibition hall.15minutes later I came out only to see the tram on its merry way up the track.I also cant forgive the fact that they pulled out all the stops for the Glasgow event yet did naff all to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abandonment of sheffields system which is right on their doorstep. I also think that for the public to pay 12 quid to walk in to the sound of their own footsteps on most days is no encouragement for return visits.Needless to say I have not renewed my membership this year and probably will not for the foreseeable future.

  14. Clifford Stead says:

    I share the view about Crich being very difficult to get to, there needs to be a sea change in the way the public and volunteers are treated and it`s by no means unique to Crich. We had a dreadful experience on the Seaton tramway which made us feel very unwelcome. It would be a real tragedy if all those years of restoration were to be lost over poor customer experience.

  15. It appears that the Tramway Museum at Crich is in a bit of a vicious circle. I believe that at the start there was the almost inevitable decline in the number of volunteers when the first generation of volunteers began to get too old to remain involved in the operation of the museum. That was about 2005. As a result the workload for the remaining volunteers increased on many fronts and the tram service deteriorated. This may have lead to an unhappiness among the remaining volunteers with some being less than friendly to visitors and some dropping out due to the pressure.
    From personal experience I believe that 2012 will in retrospect be seen as the turning point as there were noticeable improvements on many points. That the effect was not yet felt so much in 2012 as much happened quite late in the year but 2013 may be very different already. Not yet perfect, but certainly better. I believe it is now upon tramway enthusiasts in general to be the first to honour the improvements and get involved (again) which will improve the visitor experience and ultimately lead to higher visitor numbers and receipts.

    On a total different subject, I believe the comparison with both Beamish and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park is unfair. Both have potent financial backers, i.e the council and investors, which are not present at Crich.

  16. freel07 says:

    Sorry Christopher but the rot set in a long time before 2005. I spent many happy days and weekends working there during the 60s and 70s but found the attitude of some people to those who for family reasons couldn’t be there every opening hour frankly obnoxious. Certain people seemed to like to strut around in uniforms or overalls barking orders and making many feel very small. By 1978 I gave up and found another project nearer to home to get involved in. Its a shame that the efforts of those few committed people in the early 1950s and 60s have come to this and I sincerely hope that the changes you mention are successful and also wish the new manager well when he or she is appointed.

    • I have not been looking at the subjective issue of people’s behavior. I have been looking a variety of figures using the figures published the TMS magazine which is available to visitors. That’s were my date of 2005 comes from. Some figures I looked at started to deteriorate slightly earlier or later than that. If you look at it in a positive way, one might argue that the operation of the museum has become more efficient.

  17. Daniel says:

    Christoph is right, however the other problem i have expeeianced is that the new yonger volenteers who arrive to take on the load from those who can no longer manage to do so due to age etc are not made to feel welcome, rather that they are intruders in tge old gyards domain and only fit to do the most menial tasks. This is even more prounounced where anything to do with paid staff is involved. Turn up at the workshop. And where once you would have been valued and given a job and shown how to do it if it was somthing new now you will most likley gett fobbed off with there is nothing for you to do or if you are lucky find somthing to paint….. There is no willingless to teainn young volenteers in any new skills

    • Jack Gordon says:

      Can I please ask you to present your evidence for this, particularly with regards to the workshop?

      As one of Crich’s younger volunteers (at one stage youngest) I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from, but it is certainly not true. I, along with other younger members, are made very welcome in the workshop (and other departments) on a regular basis. Jobs are always found for us to do (and yes, this is sometimes painting, but things have to be seen as part of the bigger picture!) no matter what our skill levels are (I am by no means an engineer, simply an enthusiastic amateur), although this is often easier when attendance is communicated in advance rather than an unannounced appearance – this way things can be planned around who is in.

      Certainly my experience is not isolated: the same is true of other younger workshop volunteers and we are all part of the bigger team. We all have different experience and interests and you take the good with the bad: at the end of the day, as I said above, every little helps and anyone who expects to walk in and start from the very top probably won’t get on too well in life, let alone at the Museum.

      I will, however, add a caveat: Crich is not perfect. Far from it, in fact. My experiences of other departments are well documented on other fora, so I won’t bring them up again, but certainly the workshop can single-handedly be attributed my continued involvement, albeit now much reduced due to migrating ‘darn sarf’ for University. Week-on-week I have been made welcome by all – old’uns and young’uns, volunteers and full timers. The same cannot be said of other Crich departments – and that definitely needs to change – but certainly not the Workshop. So, again, I ask you for your evidence of the above outlandish statements.

      To end: Much of what is said above cannot be denied. Crich is in trouble, and things need to alter – and fast – for the Museum we all know and love to remain. I refute many of the inferences about how friendly (or otherwise) volunteering and the visitor experience can be, but this is by no means localised to Crich and is true of Heaton Park, Beamish and a number of heritage railways and other tourist attractions that I and others have visited. You will always get the bad eggs – but I will concede that Crich has a few too many.

  18. The following may sound pedantic, but those who know me will not be surprised. I also hope I will not dilute the efforts of the TMS.

    I would like to put on record, as I did elsewhere, that 2012 was the year with the lowest number of PAYING visitors at Crich since 1968 but not the year with the lowest total number of visitors. The total number of visitors is not given but a simple deduction from the number of tram journeys taken, 169 001, and the average number of trips per visitor, 1.6, leads to about 105 000 visitors in total. Apparently a fair number of visitors make use of the free repeat entry if they give Gift Aid and visiting members are also included in the total.

    Also, when making comparisons to year before 1973 one has to remember that until 1972 entry to the site was free and a charge was make for the tram journey only. If a visitor made two journeys, that would have counted as two visitors.

    Still, 2012 was a bad year for the tramway museum at Crich as far as figures are concerned. The number of volunteers was the lowest since 1977. That’s what I worry about.

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