Two major cultural attractions in Warwickshire have reported a continued increase in visitor numbers this summer as heritage tourism bounces back across the region.
Since reopening after lockdown, Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park has seen an 18 per cent increase while the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick has received a 25 per cent boost in visitor numbers with a broader demographic, including more families and young people.
Both are members of Shakespeare’s England, the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for South Warwickshire and the surrounding area.
Julie Finch, Compton Verney’s Director CEO, said: “Arts and culture have a vital role to play in the national recovery story post-pandemic, and we’ve been delighted to welcome so many people back to Compton Verney – so far we’ve seen 83,603 visitors to our site since January, which is 18 per cent up on our annual target.
“It’s a recognition of the essential human value of in-person visits, connecting families and friends, experiencing vivid art, rediscovering fabulous collections and immersion in the natural environment. Compton Verney is a creative kaleidoscope, reshaped to truly welcome everyone and a destination that we are delighted so many people want to encounter.”
Compton Verney, one of the UK’s leading contemporary art galleries, reopened in May 2021 after lockdown with two interlinked exhibitions: Mary Newcomb: Nature’s Canvas and Rebecca Louise Law: Seasons.
Events at the award-winning venue have included a 100-metre-long high wire walk by Chris Bullzini alongside aerialist Eloise Curry and fire performers Flame Oz, as part of Coventry’s UK City of Culture’s Summer of Surprises, Luke Jerram’s spectacular touring artwork Museum of the Moon, Movies by Moonlight, Feats of Clay – Compton Verney’s first ever Potfest and an Art Night with the Guerrilla Girls.
A new highly-anticipated exhibition, Grinling Gibbons: Centuries in the Making, opened on September 25 and runs until January 30 2022.
Dr Heidi Meyer, a former British army officer who served in Afghanistan, is Master of Lord Leycester, a working charity and national tourist attraction housed in one of England’s most important medieval buildings. It also doubles as a home for injured war veterans and retired ex-service personnel.
She said: “This summer has been absolutely booming. Since we reopened, staycations and a renewed interest in local heritage sites have boosted the number of visitors by 25 per cent – with up to two weddings at weekends and an increase in our revenue.
“Previously, most of our visitors have been over 65 who pay concessionary ticket rates but after reopening after lockdown, we have seen a different demographic with far more younger people and families.
“Our revenue comes from ticket sales, hosting weddings and events, along with rents for our cottages, donations and grants.
“With lockdown last March, we lost 90 per cent of our revenue overnight. I furloughed all my staff and took on the work of six people.”
But a combination of Covid-19 business grants from Warwick District Council, and a cut in business rates and grants from the Heritage Emergency Fund, meant the charity was not only able to cover all bills and social distancing PPE but even enhance their offering.
Dr Meyer said: “While we were closed, we made a film about the history of the Lord Leycester called The Master and Brethren with Heritage Lottery funding and had an irrigation system installed to water the Master Garden as we had no gardeners.”
The Brethen Kitchen café has also reopened, offering breakfast, light lunches, cream teas, afternoon teas, and Sunday lunches.
Dr Meyer is currently waiting to hear if the Lord Leycester has won Heritage Lottery funding towards a £3.8 million restoration project which, if successful, would see the venue close from December and reopen in June 2023 with major enhancements.
Helen Peters, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s England, said: “It has been wonderful to witness the return of visitors in their droves to our many beautiful heritage and cultural sites, including Compton Verney and the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick.
“As well as enjoying some amazing events, exhibitions and the historic surroundings they are helping towards the recovery of the arts and culture sector across the region, which was hit so badly during the pandemic. With more than 250,000 weddings a year postponed during the pandemic in the UK, there has also been a high demand for weddings in venues throughout our county.”