For the last two years the National Trust have invested in additional marketing, new signage and tea room refresh. Despite this they have continued to experience a significant drop in visitor numbers (-26% in 2016) and increasingly negative visitor feedback which provides evidence that the Stephenson story is no longer working for thier members and visitors and they are voting with their feet and now is the opportunity for a different approach to reflect on its future which will take time and potentially investment. With limited charitable resources and to prevent any further loss in the short term and they aim to direct thier resources into finding a way forward for the birthplace. In so doing they are talking to the National Railway Museum amongst others about the Great North Exhibition in 2018 and the role Wylam can play in this to celebrate its role in the North East’s history of discovery and innovation and can see this as an opportunity to relaunch the site, demonstrating the influence it had on the young pioneer and placing him in the context of the wider region and beyond.
During this time the National Trust are arranging a programme of walks around Wylam, including a visit to the cottage, with thier volunteer walks leaders to offer a different take on how it influenced young George to then go on to achieve as much as he did whereby they will monitor how successful these are and also use them as an engagement opportunity. In doing wider audience research they have also partnered with the University of Northumbria to help both add capacity and expertise and fantastic learning experience, which I’m sure George would have approved of as it was the first thing he ensured was provided for his own son.
I would encourage as many people to continue to sign the online petition as the National Trust are completely open minded about how the cottage could be presented to better reflect its importance and welcomes all feedback and suggestions to make this site the success it should be.
Please sign the petition at change.com
National Trust closes George Stephenson's birthplace in Wylam - 2nd February 2017, Hexham Courant
George Stephenson's birthplace closed by the National Trust - 4th February 2017, ChronicleLive