3: VISITS TO DISCOVERY CENTRES
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
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
- 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
- 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
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