Novium makes ‘big statement’ by going free

THE NOVIUM museum threw open its doors to all on Monday (November 17) when it went free of charge.

Last week, the museum’s manager gave an interview to the Observer about her hopes for the future.

The Novium in Chichester's Tower Street ENGSUS00120120207130107

The Novium in Chichester's Tower Street ENGSUS00120120207130107

It is a frantic few days for the museum’s staff in the run-up to the big day. For Cathy Hakes, 38, who took over the role of museum manager permanently in April, the past few months have been a whirlwind.

“We’re not getting rid of the fee and thinking everything’s fine. That’s totally not the case – I would like to get that message across,” she said.

“We’re working doubly hard now and getting rid of our entry fee isn’t the panacea to getting the footfall up. We have to work doubly hard now. It’s not an easier way out for us.

“It’s a busy museum. A busy museum is a much bigger project than a quiet one. It’s not an easy operation and I hope people understand that.

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“We’re doing the best we can to make the museum as interesting and exciting as possible.”

Cathy took up the post permanently in April and has spent the past few months building up the museum.

Since its opening in July, 2012, the number of visitors coming through the doors has been a lot less than initially hoped, with Chichester District Council eventually changing its mind in September over the £7 entry fee for adults.

Cathy first visited the museum in 2013 and said she was thrilled a district council had made such a commitment to build a new museum to preserve its heritage for the community.

Asked what her first impression was when she saw the Novium, she said: “Masses of potential, just potential everywhere.

“I was astounded that the council had actually built a new museum. It’s not something you see happen everywhere. I was impressed the council had made that decision to do that.”

Exhibitions are lined up for the comings months, an interactive screen has been added and countless other additions made to draw people in and keep them coming back.

Cathy said the key to the building’s future success was people from the district taking ownership of the museum and establishing an emotional connection to it.

“I think the more people that visit the museum, the more they will love it. There’s a lot to discover here. The more you come in, the more things you see all the time.

“We’ve a huge amount of things on display. It’s about making people engage with things on display and connecting with objects. I don’t think you can take it all in on one visit and that’s why I’m so pleased we have this free entry.”

The hope is the free entry will allow people to pop in to see their favourite objects whenever they like, without being put off by the fee, and when they do come in, feeling the need to see everything to get value for money.

“It’s more accessible. People can come in and see those objects they love and remember and hopefully get that connection back.”

She added: “The absolute key is that people take ownership of this museum and develop a fondness for it. There’s been a lot of negativity in the past.”

It is not widely known, but the museum has one of the largest collections of handling objects in the country.

Cathy said already ideas were being considered such as Chichester in 100 objects, which could see the public viewing pictures of items online and voting for those that should go out on display.

This interaction with people in the district is key to the development of the museum, according to Cathy.

“We’re making a big statement. We’re removing the fee and saying to people, to come in. We need support, we need people to support the museum and be proud of the museum and appreciate what it has to offer them. I think that’s the only way it will develop.”

She added: “When they pop into the library we want them to pop into the museum in the same way and with the same feeling. We want local people to feel ownership of this museum and that’s really key to our success – we need local support.”

Cathy heads up a team of staff who are working to help the museum turn the corner.

“The one thing I would really like to say is I have an absolutely amazing team,” she said.

“They’re full of energy, full of ideas and so hard-working and they constantly surprise me with their creativity and dedication.”

She added there was also a lot the museum would not be able to do without its dedicated band of volunteers.

There is a firm belief among many that the museum has now turned a corner and is starting to focus on what it will achieve in the coming years.

“It would be nice to turn the corner for the Novium and have a positive vibe about it now,” said Cathy. “The main thing was the fee. We’ve made a big statement now. It would be nice if it could turn a corner now. I think we already have. I’m very pleased with the service we offer.”

A Friends of the Novium group has been launched, with an annual cost the same as the previous annual season ticket. From this, members can get entry to private viewings and events, as well as a discount in the shop.

The shop will prove ever more important now as a way of generating income for the museum. A business development officer has worked with a local jeweller at creating pieces of jewellery, such as cufflinks, specific to Chichester that can be bought at the Novium, and a lot of other additions are planned.

This, in addition to donations and the use of the museum as a venue, as well as the Guildhall in Priory Park potentially being used for weddings, would hopefully cover the cost of dropping the fee and sustain the museum.

All of this and more are planned to keep the Novium fulfilling an important role, not just here in the present, but in the future.

Cathy described her team at the museum as ‘the official custodians of the heritage of the Chichester district’.

She finished with a final message to everyone in the district and beyond: “Come and find out what we do.”