How South Shields' Arbeia Roman Fort is bucking the trend with boost in visitor numbers

South Shields’ own Arbeia Roman Fort is helping museum bosses shake-off a fall in visitor numbers in what should have been a bumper year.

By Daniel Holland
Monday, 10th June 2019, 3:53 pm
Brother and sister Fred, four, and Scarlett, nine Reavley, at Arbeia in 2018
Brother and sister Fred, four, and Scarlett, nine Reavley, at Arbeia in 2018

Footfall at Tyne and Wear’s museums plunged by almost 50,000 in a year when the Great Exhibition of the North should have provided a major boost.

New figures show 3% fewer people set foot inside the region’s museums and galleries in 2018/19 than in the previous 12 months, as the cultural attractions missed visitor targets by more than 150,000.

From left, The Director of the British Museum, Dr Hartwig Fischer with Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Iain Watson, Head of Programmes Bill Griffiths and South Tyneside Council Tanya Robinson with Native Britain.

But chiefs at Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) said Arbeia Roman Fort on the Lawe Top in South Shields was among the sites showing a strong performance this year, thanks in part to its outdoor events.

Iain Watson, director of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, said: “We have had a good start to 2019/20 with footfall up at all of our outdoor sites thanks in part to the mild Easter weather, a popular events programme and new developments at Arbeia Roman Fort.”

He said the Laing Art Gallery – showing the Whistler and Nature exhibition, and the Great North Museum: Hancock, which is hosting Dippy on Tour – both had strong performances.

Arbeia played host to gladiators and archery demo’s at the historic site’s Roman Spring Fair, with Easter and May Bank Holiday weekends also seeing reenactors and additional attractions..

Questions have been raised, however, about an overall dip in visitor numbers at TWAM’s sites in 2018/19 – the year of the Great Exhibition of the North.

There were 1.29million visits to TWAM sites in 2018/19. That marked a dip from 1.34million in 2017/18 and was well below the target of 1.45million.

Footfall across the museum sites was strongest in July and August, the key months of the Great Exhibition, but poorer than the previous year in every other month and consistently behind target levels.

The poor performance has been partly blamed on lengthy closures at The Great North Museum: Hancock for the installation and removal of its Great Exhibition attraction.