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APPENDIX 3: VISITS TO DISCOVERY CENTRES


APPENDIX 3:  VISITS TO DISCOVERY CENTRES

Members of the working party visited Techniquest (Cardiff), the Manchester Discovery Centre, Museum of Rowing (Henley), Children's Museum Bethnal Green, Livesey Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Horniman Museum. A typical visit report is:

Visit to Techniquest by Robert Hancock, Strategic Director, LBRuT, October 1999

To ensure that we are properly briefed in handling the issue of a Discovery Centre, I visited three of the major centres in the country, Techniquest in Cardiff (the only centre with a R and D and exhibition build department), the National Science Museum (which hosts the National Group of about 30 centres), and the Manchester Discovery Centre.

My first visit was to the largest of them all which also provides the greatest amount of external consultancy help and advice to those developing in Britain, Europe and further afield, Techniquest in Cardiff. The Director, Colin Johnson, assembled a team of himself, his Exhibitions Director, Harry White, and his Development Director, Allan Edwards, to host me for a day last Friday.

Whilst we had a discussion about the current Centre, the key elements of advice came from them in regard to their previous Centre which had a total of 800 square metre space including exhibition, entertainment and support staff.

The current team have been working together for 15 years and this is their third Centre. They started in a Gas showroom with some interactive displays, moved to their second dedicated, Centre of 800 square metres prior to moving this final 3,500 square metre Centre with 1,500 square metre of exhibition space.

All the following comments are advice in regard to our 1,000 square metre proposal taken from their own experience of their 800 square metre Centre. Obviously costs are at current day rates:

  • Their 800 square metre Centre hosted 100,000 visitors per year, one third being children during term time and two thirds being families and children at weekends and holiday periods.
  • Each exhibit requires 10 square metres of exhibition space to enable proper utilisation by individuals and groups.
  • An 800 square metre Centre would require a minimum of 8 permanent coach parking places and 250 car parking spaces.
  • The current costs per exhibit are between 12,000 to 15,000. These are for the plastic style, brightly coloured exhibits. Should we require robust wooden exhibits which may be more in keeping with the prestige riverside site then approximately 18,000 should be allowed per exhibit.
  • The current Centre requires a subsidy which is in the region of one third of the total annual running costs. Their view is that the most cost efficient Centres, where they are run as a Discovery Centre business, require between a 15% to 20% subsidy and some around the country require an 80% subsidy.
  • The target for visitors should always be about one third of the total from schools during term time and two thirds from children and families together at weekends and in school holidays.
  • They reckon for business terms on 170 term day visitors, and 190 family and weekend visitors.
  • It was pointed that you can indeed have 1% of all your visitors on a single day or 10% over a ten day period at busy holiday times.
  • For 800 square metres it is their view that in addition to the appropriate Director and Exhibitions Director you would require six to eight floor staff on a permanent basis. This would be in addition to a schools officer, booking officer and admin. support
  • Enough space must be in the Centre for children's wet weather clothes, storing their luggage, space to eat sandwich lunches, and recognise that unless bookings are very tightly undertaken you may need double the coach parking space.
  • They recommend 150 square metres being allocated to theatre and 200 square metres to office space. This is in addition to storage and repair space.
  • A significant sum is required as an annual basis for refurbishment - a capital replacement fund. It is suggested that 10% of the initial capital cost be allocated each year for replacement and refurbishment.
  • They are very willing to provide consultancy support either for a day or two on a more prolonged basis should a Centre be established.
  • Given that they are a charity and running on the tightest of budgets requiring a significant subsidy, the salary levels for staff are very low. At Director level they only earn somewhere in the region of 25K per individual.

Overall from this we can see that we should be quite cautions of considering this service as a fully blown business on the riverside site. I doubt it would be sustainable in traffic terms and clearly the subsidy would not be feasible from the balance of the site.

Should it wish to be considered, then having an aspect of discovery exhibit within a riverside/heritage centre with the involvement of youth and arts groups would appear to be a more hopeful balance.

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