It may be a community enterprise, but with a small army of volunteers to run it, Nidderdale Museum is clearly a major asset in Pateley Bridge.
Since it was launched in 1975 – occupying a former workhouse, which means even the fabric of the building is an exhibit – the museum has amassed 32,000 exhibits.
Before the Covid pandemic struck, it also had a roster of around 80 volunteers to both steward the seven-days-a-week summer openings and to keep the museum’s administration and acquisition and conservation of its collections on track.
Like all museums, it has been closed through lockdown and although it is expected to welcome visitors back from May 21, this year’s openings are likely to be restricted to Friday to Sundays rather than the normal every day sessions.
Many of the volunteers who worked there previously are elderly and needed to shield, so were unable to return when the museum re-opened between lockdowns.
While more were hastily recruited, the museum is now using a National Lottery grant of more than £54,000 to help set up a volunteer training programme with the aim of diversifying the range of people involved.
The grant will be used for other developments also, but the new volunteer programme should help to build in resilience for the future.
Chairman Sue Welch said: “We are hoping part of this project can be to get a wider range of volunteers, younger people and those from all walks of life, involved, not just for stewarding but for the things which go on in the background.”
The grant is expected also to finance a digital strategy for the museum, with a business plan to help guide its path into the future.
The museum’s exhibits fill its 12 rooms and are restricted to items from Nidderdale, with careful decisions now made about extending the collection.
There is also an extensive archive of photographs and documents, which can assist volunteers in answering frequent requests for help with family histories – queries that can come in from all parts of the globe.
Sue said: “We rely on a lot of local support. Many of our volunteers live in local villages and a lot have lived there for years, so they know the background.
“We send information all over the world, using our wide range of documents, including old parish records and letters and are very often able to help people.
“They are very grateful and it is only possible because volunteers are happy to give up their time,” she said.
The pandemic robbed the museum of the opportunity to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Pateley Bridge getting a market charter. However, they are hoping to seize the opportunity to put on a belated exhibition to mark the date later this year.