If you don’t use it, you lose it. Thoughts about the National Media Museum

Long before I worked in Bradford, I visited the National Media Museum, then called the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. I was in Yorkshire for a few days, staying Leeds whilst taking in a gig (ah, those were the days), and wanted to do a bit of sight-seeing. Being an avid photographer and cinema goer, the Museum sounded like the ideal place to spend a few hours.

It was very different of course in those days, but won me over completely. Not as interactive as museums now need to be for the YouTube generation, it still had a great selection of exhibits and things you could play with (using a vision mixer, getting ‘blue-screened’ onto a flying carpet, etc.). I left Yorkshire to head back down South feeling that I had spent my time well and telling everyone about what a gem the Museum was.

Several years later, I’d finished my doctorate and was looking to start an academic career. I had three offers of a job, one in the South, one in the North East, and one from Bradford. Two things made me choose Bradford: the advice of my supervisor, the late Professor Dick Grimsdale, whose opinion in these matters I valued extremely highly, and the fact that I remembered the wonderful Museum.

After working in the Computing Department for a couple of years, I had the opportunity to move to the ‘EIMC Unit’. This innovative department ran courses in digital media (before digital media was a term) jointly with Bradford College and the Museum. The chance to work closely with the experts from the Museum and to have access to their facilities was far too tempting, and I was lucky enough to move across the EIMC shortly afterwards. I’ve been working here ever since.

Besides the professional interest, the Museum was an essential destination when some of ‘my friends from the South’ came to visit. Not only was it a great place to wander round and grab a bite to eat, I was also proud to shatter the preconceived ideas about what people would and wouldn’t find in Bradford. A national museum? In Bradford? You’re kidding?

(Of course this does beg the question “why not?”. Why should nearly all the national museums be in London? Why is it the Northern ones that are under threat rather than the facilities in the London ones? But I’m not going to get political here, I’ll save that for another time.)

All that was a long time ago. It’s no longer the first place that I take people. I don’t go to see films there as often as a I did. I don’t grab a coffee or a bite to eat there very often.

Sure, part of this is because my life has changed. I don’t get to the cinema much at all anymore now I’ve got two small children. I’m much busier than I was as a young(ish), energetic chap enjoying the good life in a Northern town.

But I take it for granted. I forget how lucky I am to have a national museum, especially one on a such an interesting topic, right on my doorstep. I forget how fortunate I am to have the Bradford International Film Festival here every year, how very lucky I am to have the Bradford Animation Festival on my doorstep. How amazing it is to be in the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. Other cities would bite your hand off to have such a great institution in their centre.

So the time has come to use it rather than lose it. Visit it. Use the café. Use the cinema. Take people there. Because even if all the campaigning works and the museum stays open, to be sustainable it needs people to use it more.

And I need to remember why I came to Bradford in the first place, and why I later came to live and work here.

Save the National Media Museum from Simon Lawson on Vimeo.