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.