Just ahead of the first anniversary of the New Room’s multi-million pound visitor centre, it has been announced that the historic chapel and its new state-of-the-art museum have earned a shortlisting as ‘leisure and tourism business of the year’ in the Bristol Post Business Awards.
The judging panel was impressed by visitor feedback on the museum such as: ‘One of the best museums I’ve experienced,’ ‘Amazing – every room is so varied,’ and: ‘Really excellent – engaging and thought-provoking.’
The museum is the star of the new visitor centre. Located on the second floor, with lift access, it is family-friendly and enables visitors to learn how and why the Methodist movement developed, as well as challenging people to consider afresh controversial issues such as consumerism, the environment and warfare that remain as contentious today as they were when John Wesley built the New Room in 1739.
The New Room’s director, David Worthington, said: “Being shortlisted as ‘leisure and tourism business of the year’ is a fantastic acknowledgement of the vast amounts of time, effort and money invested by a whole range of people in bringing the new visitor centre to fruition.
“It is great for my staff team, the New Room’s trustees and all the wonderful volunteers who support us in so many ways, to have their input recognised by experts in the field of leisure and tourism.
“Our aim is to provide a rewarding visitor experience in an environment people will want to visit again, bringing friends and family members too on future occasions, and this very positive endorsement is evidence we’re achieving this.”
Visitor numbers are expected to be up by 50% by the end of the visitor centre’s first year of operation in June, and the team at the New Room is hoping to achieve 50,000 visitors per year by 2020.
The development of the visitor centre, which opened in July 2017, took 18 months and an investment of £4.6 million, including substantial Heritage Lottery funding.
Traditionally a place of local, national and international pilgrimage both for Methodists and many others, the New Room is also a founding member of the ‘Sacred Bristol’ initiative which encourages religious tourism in the city and actively contributes to the drive to attract more US visitors by promoting Bristol’s American links, including US lecture tours by David Worthington.
A popular element of the new visitor centre is its 40-seater café which occupies a light airy atrium under a large glazed roof space, giving the impression of being outdoors whilst remaining fully protected from the elements.
The café has recently won recognition twice over in its own right, first with a gold award in the ‘Best Café or Restaurant’ category in the 2018 South West Fairtrade Business Awards, then with top place in the ‘Food & Dining’ category of the Bristol BID Retailer Awards 2018 with a 100% mystery shopper satisfaction score.
Already a popular destination for school visits, the New Room now offers an increased range of educational activities and workshops suitable for different age groups, addressing specific areas of the national curriculum.
The visitor centre also features an historically-important library and archive, as well as conference facilities which are available for hire.
The chapel itself – which has great acoustics – is often the venue for musical events, including monthly ‘Folk At The New Room’ gigs and frequent Friday lunch-time recitals from visiting musicians, and hosts a lunch-time community choir that meets weekly in term times.
New initiatives launched since the visitor centre opened, also include a monthly film club, and all-age museum days focused on specific elements of John Wesley’s work, in addition to collaborations with organisations like the Fairtrade Foundation, Bristol Festival of Ideas, and Bristol Refugee Week, who have all had awareness-raising events hosted in the chapel and visitor centre.
Other facets of the New Room’s growing community involvement include a monthly drop-in ‘Chat and Craft’ group in the café, and being a local hub for the ‘Octopus for a Preemie’ where local people can learn to create therapeutic comforters for premature babies.
Both chapel and visitor centre are open from Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 4pm all year. Entrance to the historic chapel is free. The museum costs £3 for children and £6 for adults, with family tickets at £9 for one adult plus children, or £14 for two adults plus children. Other concessions and group rates are available.