We set off in high spirits, all four of us excited by a day out with friends arranged at relatively short notice. 9YO chats non-stop in the back of the car, giving us a running commentary of her DS game, apparently regardless of whether anyone is listening. 3YO is like Pavlov’s dog on car journeys at the moment; the movement of the car, the ringing bell which makes her salivate. We’re not even on the M1 before a plaintive “Can I have something to eat?” chimes across the Monster High monologue. So the chicken sandwiches come out at 10.30am, and before long we all realise that we’re hungry. Call it brunch.
Our destination today is the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield. Its publicity leaflet must have been scooped up by 9YO on another day out in Yorkshire somewhere. She thrust it in front of me and her father a few weeks back, announcing that we simply HAD to go there. I suspect the various How to be a Fire Fighter/ Cop programmes on CBBC have inspired her. So off we go, a day out to Life on Mars for kids.
Having lived in Sheffield throughout the 1990’s, I was always vaguely aware of the red brick building with the air of an elderly fire station just outside the main city centre on West Bar. Turns out it opened as a combined Police and Fire Station in 1900, and was a working building until 1965. It opened originally as a Fire Service Museum in the 1980s, the Police exhibitions added in the 1990s. Recently rebranded as the National Emergency Services Museum, it’s a fascinating, drafty old building with lots of open courtyards and a seriously impressive fireman’s pole. It’s pleasantly quiet on West Bar when we arrive just after 11am, and there’s plenty of parking just across the road. Entry for a family of four is £14, and a welcoming member of staff gladdens our hearts by telling us that we’re welcome to climb in the back of any exhibits which have their doors open, and there’s a fire engine ride at midday!
At this point, no doubt a more accomplished blogger would be able to reel off fascinating facts about all the exhibits on display. As we wander round, I’m vaguely aware of the HUGE variety of fire engines, some dating from the 1700’s, ambulances, police cars from around the world. I don’t have a chance to look at anything in detail though, because my whole attention is taken by rampaging children having incredible amounts of fun, scrambling in and out of exhibits, jumping down steps, ringing bells, … Meanwhile the Dads are clearly indulging in some childhood wish fulfilment dressing up as policemen and firefighters. There’s something about the layout, and the accessibility, and the sheer number of vehicles on display that fires (see what I did there?) our enthusiasm, and for a while it’s all gloriously chaotic and fun. Then before we know it, it’s midday and we’re climbing into the back of the modern-day fire engine that’s pulled up outside. Having a fire engine ride is one thing, but we weren’t expecting to be raced round the block with sirens blaring in true Fire Brigade style – another big hit.
Then it’s lunch in a cosy basement cafe, in front of a roaring log fire. The food’s average, but warm and filling, and it’s lovely in front of the fire. Just across the way is the little shop, and we can’t resist plastic fireman hats and Fireman Sam aqua-draw sets. Upstairs there’s a model railway, some educational displays which the kids drag us past and more dressing up opportunities. We leave when the little ones are starting to wilt, after a fun packed three hours, all in a very good mood and definitely open to the possibility of going back for another visit some day – when hopefully I might actually manage to find out a little bit more about what is probably a fascinating history of some of the vehicles on display. Until then, thank you National Emergency Services Museum – definitely recommended as a family day out.