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Great North Museum: Hancock marks its first anniversary
Tyranasaurus rex model in the Great North Museum: Hancock
The Great North Museum: Hancock was closed from April 2006 until May 2009

The Great North Museum: Hancock celebrated the first anniversary of its reopening on 23 May 2010.

It closed in April 2006 for extensive renovations, which saw the addition of a planetarium, an extension and the redesigning of gallery space.

Despite some initial public reservations over the renovations the changes appear to have been a big success.

Around 800,000 people have visited the museum in the past year.

Falling apart

Senior manager Steve McClean explained why changes needed to be made to the museum: "People loved it [before], but it was kind of 'Ah bless the Hancock, it's a bit shoddy and tatty and falling apart', which it was.

500,000 objects were recorded, packed and moved
183 new models were commissioned
200 new taxidermy mounts were made
47 bespoke software systems were commissioned
The total cost of the renovations was £26m

"So we were charged with reinvigorating the museum but not losing the heritage and love of the building."

There was, however, public concern about the renovations.

When demolition signs were erected protestors arrived, concerned that the building was going to be knocked down.

In fact it was just a very small part of the museum that was demolished to make way for an extension at the back.


But it wasn't just the builders who were busy. The museum's resident taxidermist, Eric Morton, produced around 200 extra specimens for display.

Steve said: "Eric's a fabulous colleague of mine. He's an absolute artist.

"There was a time when many museums had their own taxidermists on staff but that's becoming quite rare now.

"We wouldn't have the fantastic displays that we have today if it wasn't for the work that Eric has done."

Wow factor

One of the museum's innovations comes in how its live animals are displayed. Steve explained:

"The thing we've done differently here is that we've integrated the displays with the live animal tanks, which is quite unusual.

Great North Museum: Hancock's central gallery
The gallery space was designed to be light, airy and open-plan

"It helps us to tell the evolutionary story. Most museums will have an aquarium separate from the displays."

The construction of some of the gallery spaces is also quite innovative, for example, the living planet gallery is assembled vertically.

Steve said: "That is something we worked very hard to achieve, that wow factor.

"Which is why the living planet gallery at the front is an enormous floor to ceiling display that choreographs with light and sound."

Critical acclaim

Since the museum reopened in May 2009 it has received strong critical acclaim.

The Museums Journal described it as "spectacular in a way that many museums are not".

It was also the only museum in the north of England to make it to the final 11 of the prestigious Art Fund Prize in 2010, which is aimed at increasing public appreciation and enjoyment of the UK's museums and galleries.

The museum's guestbook has 147 pages filled with comments made by people who voted for it in the Art Fund Prize.

Although it didn't make the final short list, Steve isn't too disappointed: "[The guest book] is a wonderful read. If I'm ever depressed I just go to those comments and read them."

Find out more about the Great North Museum: Hancock here.

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