JWNR Raising our Platform: Background Information
John Wesley’s New Room (JWNR) is a Grade I listed heritage site in the heart of Broadmead, Bristol and our mission today is to: Be a heritage site where people come in, and go out renewed.
JWNR reopened in 2017 following a large redevelopment that created an accessible multi-use site consisting of a large atrium, café, education space, meeting rooms and archive facility. This enhanced the historic chapel (access to which has remained free of charge) with additional experiences. This enabled income-generating activities with the long-term aim of becoming more financially self-sustaining.
The museum area was extensively redeveloped to better share the Wesleys’ story and generate museum ticket income. It included installing new displays alongside the immersive heritage aspects of this floor, such as John Wesley’s study and bedroom (also reinterpreted). The visitor is invited to respond to John Wesley’s ‘manifesto’, reflecting on which of his beliefs they could bring to the challenges of today’s world.
Despite positive museum reviews, visitors to the new museum have been lower than anticipated. Following successive pandemic lockdowns 2020-2021, this continued. Aside from the price of a ticket as a barrier to entry*, visitors often spend longer in the chapel than they anticipate. Until recently, chapel visitors could also stand John Wesley’s pulpit, a highly appreciated experience. Furthermore, for most visitors the museum was reached by a long flight of steps.
Beginning in 2022, John Wesley’s New Room has entered a period of strategic review that included completing South West Museum Development’s (SWMD) Operational Health Check (OHC). Our priorities were highlighted as Governance
and Leadership, People Development, Working Practices and Audience Development. Undertaking this process in part prompted the JWNR team to clarify its vision and strategy, beginning with an Away Day, and continued by ongoing Vison and Strategy meetings to agree the way ahead.
In May 2022, JWNR made small adaptations to the visitor route, moving the museum till to the ground floor atrium to highlight the museum option and encourage visitors to explore the museum before the chapel experience. It overcomes the dissuasive effect of ascending two levels by the open atrium staircase, since the new default route takes visitors up the enclosed eighteenth-century staircase used by John Wesley. With a pause at pulpit level, climbing up to the museum is more inviting and immersive. An accessible route, via the lift, is also an option which volunteers explain as required.
A short-term solution was needed for the former museum reception room. The Education Officer assembled a small display of materials from a Methodist Church social justice initiative, inviting visitors to reflect on what justice means to them. This new on-site change coincided with the vision and strategy meeting re-grouping to form a visitor experience working group, because much of SWMD’s OHC report ‘Governance and Leadership’ recommendations had been successfully addressed. The group aims to deliver the ‘Raising our Platform’ project as a natural next step in the visitor experience intervention.
*Tickets cost £7 for an adult with various discounts available and includes free re-entry for one year. Scrapping entry fees has not been considered due to our revenue model and the sector-wide consensus that entry fees do not significantly diversify museum audiences. See AIM’s report Evaluating the Evidence: the Impact of Charging or Not for Admissions on Museums.