An independent, self-funded museum and charity dedicated to celebrating the heroic history of the emergency services has today been named the UK’s best Family Friendly Museum at an awards ceremony in London. The National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) in Sheffield has been recognised for its truly outstanding local community work, hands-on galleries, and welcoming staff.
The museum’s win coincides with this year’s 999 Day, this government-backed national event celebrating the heroic work of the NHS and emergency services.
Run by charity Kids in Museums, the national award is awarded annually to one museum, gallery, historic home or heritage site in the UK that goes the extra mile to provide a great experience for families. Families praised the NESM for the way “it makes history come alive” and the meaningful way it connects with and supports its local communities.
The museum survived through COVID-19 and lockdowns thanks to an enormously successful crowdfunding campaign, with children even posting their pocket money through the front door. Judges were also impressed by the hands-on nature of the museum, encouraging young people to learn through play - with fire engine rides, driving simulators, dressing-up, climbing walls, climb-on vehicles and interactive galleries, covering topics from the Great Fire of London to modern fire safety and staying safe in the water.
One secret judge said: “There was something for all our kids to experience. From dressing up to solving an investigation to ringing their fire bell. There was lots to be interactive with.”
Another secret judge was also amazed by the level of engagement offered, saying: “I was quite shocked at how much was free to touch and get hands on with. There were lots of opportunities for kids to interact so that adults could explore the exhibits in their way too, and read any information they wanted to. There is so much space and things to do - we got to be very silly!”
As part of the shortlisting process, families said: “There are many areas for kids to dress up as the heroes of the emergency services, what kids don't like dressing up? The museum runs many events, from sensory learning to supporting the STEM projects. Most of all, the museum isn’t stuffy and old fashioned. Its young and excited team keep things fun and interesting, while keeping the heroes of history at the heart of every display and activity.”
Another visiting family said: “We visit many museums but were blown away by this one. Areal effort has been made to make sure there is a child friendly activity to do at regular intervals, children are encouraged to touch and climb on a large number of exhibits. Based on our visits to other museums, I thought we’d stay for an hour, but we ended up staying for half the day and my toddler is already asking when we can return.”
Since it launched in 2004, the award has become a benchmark of excellence in the heritage sector. Each year Kids in Museums receives hundreds of public nominations, which are whittled down to a shortlist by an expert panel. The final say goes to families, who visit each shortlisted museum over the summer holidays, and decide the winner. Announced in London today, the winner: Best Small Museum + Overall Winner is the National Emergency Services Museum, Sheffield
Philip Mould, President of Kids in Museums, said: “For this museum to win the award today, on 999 Day, is really special and proves the love and respect that children and families have for our incredible emergency services staff.
“What’s so important is that this museum tells the story of our emergency services and shares lifesaving lessons in a surprising, engaging and joyful way. This dedicated team has created a place where families can learn together through play, truly bringing history to life.
"We’re so proud we can highlight this and the excellent work staff and volunteers are doing in Sheffield and right across the UK."
Follow the Family Friendly Museum Award on social media by following the hashtag #FamilyFriendlyMuseum.
The Family Friendly Museum Award has been made possible by funding from Arts Council England.
National Emergency Services Museums wins Kids in Museums award. All images by Msc1photography