Vital we keep moving forward, says new chief executive of Ironbridge Gorge Museums
Attracting tourists and visitors to Ironbridge may seem fairly straightforward, but the new chief executive of the Gorge’s museums says it is vital the trust which manages the area’s attractions continues to move forward.
Nick Ralls, who took over the reins in December, said: “We’re looking at an exciting and engaging events programme, with added value events all the way through to large scale ones that will be different and quirky.
“There’s also two or three projects that I’m working on getting to the stage where we can submit them for planning – those are more aspirational development projects that we’ll see coming together in the next two to three years.”
Meanwhile the Ironbridge Coracle Trust has announced that work on the last coracle maker’s shed in England, which is situated on the bank of the River Severn in Ironbridge, is to get under way next week. The project will see the derelict shed stabilised and turned into a visitor attraction.
Mr Ralls has joined the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust as chief executive, having left his post as general manager at Severn Valley Railway – a position he held for more than a decade.
His new role will see him take charge of running the trust's museums and attractions, including Blists Hill Victorian Town, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and the pivotal Iron Bridge.
Having started the job in December, the 49-year-old, from Bewdley, said his initial challenge will be ensuring the trust has the continuity to be as successful as in previous years.
"Due to the time I've started, my first role is about making sure we've got a robust plan for 2020, to make sure we always look to generate income for the museums," he said.
"We're doing that because we need to invest in ourselves, always look to make our attractions bigger and better, and ensure they continue to be a fantastic place to visit, where people will return.
"I started officially in December. I had Christmas in the way but it was quite a good time to start and see the museums at their busiest – this is the time of year we're budgeting and planning for 2020, so I have been able to assist and input into that."
Having managed Severn Valley Railway for 12 years – a position which has been filled by Helen Smith, the first woman to hold the role – Nick said similar features of the two attractions are becoming apparent.
"There are indeed many similarities. Both are independent, meaning they have to survive and develop on their own merit and they're both similarly complex organisations," he said.
"In Ironbridge it may say 'museum' on the lid of the tin but underneath that, think of all the complexities of what we are. Both have a myriad of different buildings and structures, cafes, shops, engineering aspects, a lot of volunteers and a good number of paid staff.
"It's quite similar to the railway in that we have to survive on attracting people to this fantastic place and making sure they have a good time."
Despite the assumption the World Heritage Site and birthplace of the Industrial Revolution will always attract some level of tourist activity, Nick said it was vital the trust continues to move forward.
He highlighted the focus of community engagement throughout the year ahead, with a number of events scheduled and plans to involve businesses and residents in and around the Gorge.