Founded in 1970, the award-winning Weald & Downland Living Museum is a leading museum of historic buildings in England, covering 40 acres in the South Downs National Park in West Sussex. It includes over 50 historic buildings dating from 950AD to the nineteenth centuries, re-erected from their original sites in south east England, together with period gardens, traditional farm animals and a mill pond.
The exhibit buildings range from a reconstruction of a Saxon hall house to working buildings of the late 19th century. They are complemented by a collection, located in the Downland Gridshell Building, of building fixtures and fittings such as hinges, latches and doors, as well as larger structural elements and materials used in building construction and conservation.
The Museum also holds excellent collections relating to rural life, including agriculture, domestic life, trades and industries, and transport. A library of printed books, maps and other published materials relevant to the collections is held by the Museum for study purposes. The collections are ‘Designated’ as being of national importance in England, and the Museum has full “Accreditation“.
As well as bringing to life the homes, farmsteads and rural industries represented by its collections and exhibits, other themes are strongly represented at the Museum, including landscape, agriculture, animal husbandry, science and sustainability. Interpretation is achieved mainly through people, together with modest panel displays and publications. There are no plans to introduce electronic gadgets.
The Museum has an extremely strong commitment to lifelong learning. In addition to 20-25,000 children visiting in school parties every year, the Museum operates as a private sector training provider, selling over 3,600 student-days of adult teaching and training every year, with a broad spectrum of provision from workshop-based skills training to two graduate courses run in association with University of York.
The Museum makes a major contribution to tourism in the Chichester area, and is a key attraction in the South Downs National Park. It attracts around 150,000 visitors each year; mainly schools, couples and families, but with significant numbers of special interest visitors as well.
During its life, the Museum has been acknowledged as one of the UK’s leading independent museums. It receives no revenue subsidy from central or local government, but synergy between museum objectives and commercial realism is one of its most impressive features.
- The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Limited is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
- Singleton Museum Services Limited is a wholly-owned trading subsidiary formed to undertake trading activities that are not charitable. While there is financial separation between the funds of the two companies, they are managed on a day-to-day basis as a single entity.
- The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Endowment Trust is another independent charity, which holds funds for longer-term investment in the Museum.
The Museum is governed by its board of trustees, which meets three times a year, from which an executive board, meeting bimonthly, is appointed to manage the Museum through and with the Director. The Museum’s gross income for 2013 was £1.86 million.
The Director is the Museum’s Chief Executive Officer, reporting to the executive board and to the board of trustees. There are around 29 full-time-equivalent paid staff but the Museum is reliant on over 350 volunteers, who give an estimated 35-40,000 hours a year working in almost every department of the Museum and line managed by staff members.