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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Visitors flock to free museums
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum has proved popular
Attendance at museums and galleries in the UK has risen by 75% since entrance fees were scrapped.

London has seen the greatest benefit of the introduction in December of free entry.

The Natural History Museum has seen its visitor numbers soar by 89%, while attendance at the neighbouring Science Museum has gone up by 82%.

The rises equate to an extra 1.4 million visitors pouring through the doors of the capital's museums and galleries.

Another sign that the initiative is working is the 10% increase in the number of children who have taken the opportunity to visit a museum in the past year.

Tessa Jowell
Jowell is urging people to visit local and national museums

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced the impressive rise to mark the start of Museums and Galleries Month, which this year is on the theme of Celebration.

Free entry to museums was a policy initiative promised by the Labour government when it came to power in 1997.

But it took several years to come to fruition with museums concerned about losing out financially, although they were keen to open their doors free to the public.

Chancellor Gordon Brown eased these concerns by introducing tax changes in the 2001 budget.

Many museums and galleries still charge entrance fees for their exhibitions.

Regional changes

The Museums and Galleries Month will also highlight plans to reorganise regional museums.

A task force has recommended the creation of a "hub" in each English region consisting of a leading museum and up to three others becoming partners or "satellites", all working together to improve standards and promote visitor growth.

Ms Jowell said she was encouraged by the news that at least one region had applied for hub status.

"Museums and galleries in this country make an invaluable contribution to the quality of people's lives," said Ms Jowell.

"I hope the various events organised for Museums and Galleries Month will also serve as a reminder of their great potential and will encourage people to visit and enjoy their regional or local museum, as well as the nationals."

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Arts
Behind the museum doors
08 Nov 01 | Arts
Museums turn on government
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Museums and galleries will be free
01 Apr 01 | Wales
Museums launch free entry
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Museums scrap entrance charges
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