Barnsley may have its bad press and plenty of jokes surrounding it, however, living right on the border of Barnsley, I really do want the best for the plucky little town, and spent many hours there as a child, and do love a wander around Barnsley market every now and then.
Experience Barnsley was opened in the Town Hall in 2013, costing £4.3 million. Since then it has attracted nothing but praise, and since it opened its doors, we have been wanting to go and see what all the fuss was about.
Being right in the town centre, the car parking fees always put me off going, lets face it, as a Yorkshireman, my wallet rarely opens, and a couple of quid being spent on car parking made me uncomfortable. Then, I noticed something on Barnsley Councils website – car parking in the town centre was free on Sundays – bingo, a free museum and free car parking – how could this be any better, I mean, even if the museum was rubbish, I had saved 2 quid!
So, off we went, a family trip to Barnsley, sounds exciting huh?
Arriving just after 11am, just as the doors opened, we found that the roads in the centre were having works, and finding on street parking was a little difficult, however, stumbling across a road with half a dozen free spaces, right outside the police station and a CCTV camera pointing down the street, I felt I could leave the doors open, I mean how much safer can car parking be!
Despite us bringing the smaller, Alto, a cheap little dodgem, we decided not to chance it and locked it up, heading across the road to the Town Hall.
The courtyard outside the museum has a giant sculpture and some fountains which creates a nice modern, tidy area. Upon entering the museum we found, for some reason to our surprise, it to be a fully functional Town Hall with rooms and hallways leading to the council offices, registration services and everything else the Council may need for day to day business.
Experience Barnsley is clearly signposted through a doorway and the room opened up, instantly creating a professional and high quality feel.
I was shocked and impressed at what lay before me, a large room with glass cabinets and displays of all things Barnsley. From football to mining, it was all here, and the displays were not just boring stuffy museum type displays, the exhibits are set out in such a way that we wanted to read every bit of information, and in such a way that they engage and keep the interest of us.
There was a small room with a projected image showing Barnsley trades throughout the years, from weavers to the Pit Strikes which again was well thought out and completely engaging.
Some work sheets to one side kept our son busy as he made best to find the answers asked on the sheet.
In another room there were some games set out, giant snakes and ladders, large noughts and crosses and a few other bits and bobs, we moved around and had some fun playing the games, of course there was ultimate competition within the family, with all wanting to win, however I get the feeling it was all skewed against me as I lost each and every game.
In another room was the Brilliant and Bizarre collection, a small room with a number of exhibits, which the names says it all. In the corner of this room, something I had never seen before, a plinth upon which rested a bowl, no barriers, no glass, there to pick up and handle. Above the bowl a sign read that you could take the bowl home in return for something you leave behind. Somebody had left this bowl and written a short piece about it, the idea I thought was brilliant, however, swapping the small bowl for our son was for some reason frowned upon.
From this room we were really in the guts of the building, and hallways opened up to where all the business end of the council was. I couldn’t resist a look around, for the important rooms and places we shouldn’t be were locked off, and I got to wander around an almost deserted Town Hall, gaze at the many Mayors from years dating back countless years, glimpse the ceremonial items used by the Mayor, and really feel a little closer to the people running the town, and I have to mention the elevator – wow, you only see these in movies, this was an open lift shaft surrounded by steel lattice work, the elevator itself a wooden walled compartment, and I feel myself even now getting carried away with it – it’s the little things like this, things that are not part of the experience, but are just functional that I love stumbling upon.
One last room before we exited into the inevitable gift shop was an area our son loved, he could play being an archaeologist, digging in some fake dirt for buried items, got to dress up in a little suit of armour and numerous other hands on bits and bobs.
We really enjoyed Experience Barnsley, staying around 2 hours, we had seen everything, yet left planning our return, it was educational, fun and extremely well carried out in its execution.
Experience Barnsley is of course a free to enter attraction, but with a gift shop and a small café, with prices in the most part being very reasonable. I joked before about getting free car parking – if you do take our tip, be aware that it is free because the rest of the town is closed, and always double check the signs just in case that ever changes, but I know for a fact, next time I head to the town on a Saturday for a wander around the town, Experience Barnsley will be somewhere I head to even if just to see the elevator, or that bowl has been swapped yet.