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Museum Profile – Penmaenmawr Museum
Behind the façade of a former post office in the coastal town of Penmaenmawr in North Wales, is an independent museum bustling with volunteers and community activities.
Penmaenmawr Museum is managed by a group of trustees, 28 volunteers and Suryiah Evans, a heritage and community consultant. Together, they manage the museum and coffee shop, a retail shop, the archive collection, a membership scheme, and organise lectures, community events and heritage walks.
The museum’s origins started with a historical society established by Dennis Roberts in 1973. An avid collector of local history objects, Dennis’ collection inspired Conwy Council and the town council to open a museum in one of a row of terraced houses in 2002.
In 2006, Penmaenmawr Historical Society took responsibility for the museum and a successful National Lottery Heritage Fund application in 2016 enabled the museum to move to the former post office.
Refurbishment started in 2019 and took about 14 months to complete with the new Penmaenmawr Museum opening to the public in March 2020. Just two weeks later, the pandemic struck, closing the museum. Lockdown saw significant work on the collection – over 1500 catalogue entries were updated and researched to create narratives for social media and grow the museum’s audience online.
The museum has a collection of 4000 objects relating to the history of Penmaenmawr including Bronze Age and Neolithic axe-making objects, items relating to the local quarry industry and tourism, and many social and cultural history photographs. New cabinetry purchased through the NLHF grant helped secure long-term loans of objects such as Bronze Age pots and a Neolithic bowl, first discovered on the landscape above Penmaenmawr in the 1890s.
The grant also covered capital improvements and the installation of the ground floor gallery, coffee shop, toilet and archive. Volunteers refurbished the first floor, creating a quiet room and a temporary exhibition gallery. Additional funding from the Welsh Government enabled the installation of a green heating system, improvements to the children’s area and a 270-degree projection to be set up in the quiet room, all resulting in a museum that is very different to when it first opened in 2020.
In 2022, the first full year of operation, volunteers welcomed 7000 visitors over the summer, a growth of around 400%. Most income is generated through the museum’s retail shop. Originally intended to be a high street pop-up, the shop has had its lease extended as its profits help pay the museum’s core running costs.
What is working for us?
- We receive excellent support from FED, the Welsh Government and other county and independent museums. There is always someone we can call on – it’s like a Welsh museums family!
- Securing partnerships with Conwy Council and other HLF projects to work on joint initiatives as part of a cultural collective.
- Strict local, green and ethical policies for our retail shop – we look for Wales-based suppliers who share our values and aim for high quality, bilingual products, and plastic-free items and packaging.
- Commitment to accessibility and wellbeing – the museum has trilingual interpretation (Welsh, English and BSL), a quiet room and information for neuro-diverse volunteers and visitors.
- Every part of the museum is an interpretation opportunity – the coffee shop is themed as an old post office and the menus are designed like old telegrams; and the corridor leading to the toilet has a timeline showing the history of toilets in Penmaenmawr.
- Commissioning illustrations that we can commercialise – we build the contracting of local artists to produce illustrations into nearly every grant opportunity. This helps local artists and gives us the chance to make unique products with illustrations that have been developed for interpretation, on cards or other products that we make to sell.
Feedback from visitors has made everyone involved in the museum proud of what they have achieved:
“When you read the visitor book and see the positive comments about the clarity of interpretation and how much children have enjoyed being at the museum, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Suryiah Evans, Museum Project Manager