Review | Our Recent Visit to North East Land, Sea & Air Museum
*We were kindly gifted entry in return for this review*
We have visited the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum, (NELSAM) often throughout the years as it is only 10 minutes away from us. We were recently invited along to do a review, and since as it has been a few years since we last visited, I thought it would be a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday Morning.
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We were really surprised at how quiet it was, on a Saturday and during the school holidays, we only saw one other family the whole time. I find this quite worrying if I am honest, as it is a great place to visit and learn about the past. (UPDATE: The main access road from the A19 is currently closed and could explain why it was so quiet. During the closure, you will need to leave the A19 at the A1231 and divert via Cherry Blossom Way.) The museum do hold annual events, obviously these have been put back due to Covid, but fingers crossed they can get back up and running.
NELSAM is completely run by volunteers and sits on the site of the old RAF Usworth/Sunderland Airport, right next door to the Nissan factory. They have a large aviation collection with over 30 aircraft. Usually you can go inside some of them, but this isn't possible right now due to Covid.
They also have a Military vehicle museum, weaponry, military vehicles, trams, buses, historical exhibits and lots more.
Upon arrival we pulled into the carpark, this is an ok size. You then head into the container where you will find the small shop and the entry to the museum. Today we were met by Les who give us a guided tour, as far as I am aware they do not offer tours but this would be a great to boost visitor numbers if it was something they could work on in the future. Les was great, he was full of knowledge and answered any questions we had, he was great with the boys and answered their questions too (They always have lots, especially Elliot!)
You can go in any of the hangars in any order you want. In the main hangar you will find a small 1950s living room display, a wartime street, you can also see the remains of a Heinkel bomber that was shot down in Sunderland and then the large display of aircraft including a life sized model of a spitfire that was built by a WW2 pilot's Dad. Look out for bullet holes in the Argentinian aircraft. Let me know how many you spot. You walk around following the one way system that brings you back out the same way you came in. In this hangar you can also find accessible toilets. If it is your sort of thing you can also find out a little more about the Usworth Ghost, you can find videos of the most haunted cast's visit online. Find out more HERE
Heading out into the next hangar you will find trams, buses, old truck and a stand with some books/DVDs you can purchase for a donation. One of the buses in this hangar, we share a bit of history with, as many years ago Craig was a bus driver and he actually passed his test in this bus. ( I am talking nearly 16 years ago now!) How cool was that? We totally didn't expect it to be there. I particularly liked the tram from Blackpool, with its movable seats so you didn't have to go backwards on your journey.
Next stop is the military hangar, with cars, helicopters, tanks and, just out side of this hangar there are also some tanks to have a look at. I am not sure of the reason but in between this hanger and the next was an old boat which we were told was from one of the bombers, this would be great on display with the story for everyone to read about.
The next hangar is the one that is used for restoration, only a few things to see in here including an old Robinsons truck, helicopter and a boat some of the volunteers made which was pretty impressive. This hangar is known as the Navy Collection.
There is another hangar, but this is currently closed and we were told the volunteers are currently painting the floor, getting it ready for a new exhibition, which we would love to see.
You can then head round to the side of the main hangar where you will see the huge Avro Vulcan B2 Bomber, it is humongous! There are also various other large aircraft you can look at and they make some great photo opportunities. On the day of our visit, volunteers were painting and cleaning up one piece from one of the aircraft. Les also give us an in depth picture of when they got one of the Vulcan's 4 engines to start and the noise it made. I loved his story about him being an ITV Camera man and he was there on the day the Vulcan flew in 36 years ago to the museum. That must have been amazing! We actually watched a video of the engine when it was restarted and it was loud!
After our tour we headed back around the museum to get photos and to get an up close look at some of the displays. The boys love museums and take there time reading everything and finding out more about what interests them. Adam and Toby are actually in the RAF Cadets and have a keen interest in aircraft so they love the museum.
There are corners of the museum that could do with a spruce up, but when it is completely run by volunteers it is completely understandable. The only thing I would say is they have one picnic table and it is on its last legs. However the museum has just signed a new 35 year lease and the volunteers have been working super hard to bring the museum back to life again. We can already see the difference with some of the displays, so we are looking forward to seeing how it all rolls out. All in all this is a great museum to visit with the family.
A few suggestions
*More info boards would be great
*Maybe a trail of some sort for the younger kids, hide teddy bears in various locations for kids to spot or even just a paper trail to get the younger visitors more engaged and interested in learning about the history the museum has to offer. UPDATE: We have been told that the museum has a set of gnomes, which will be placed around the site and will be organising a find the letter trail.
*Maybe a few more picnic tables for more families to sit at. Although you could bring a picnic and a blanket and sit on the grass.
*If I am really pushing it, offer tours I think this would be fantastic for the museum, however we do understand this may not be possible due to lack of volunteers and how busy the ones they do have are. Maybe something to think about for the future.
The volunteers do a great job here and we are very grateful for the time they put in, they should be so proud to have such a fantastic attraction with so many pieces of history. You can see that the volunteers are passionate about the museum.
When we were talking to staff they made it clear they would love some new volunteers to help out, as there's always loads to do. If you are interested please do get in touch with the museum although you do have to be over 18 unless an adult can volunteer too.
Click HERE to find out more.
For the younger kids there's a small play area with a slide and swing which is in great condition, once the museum can reopen everything safely, they can also go inside some of the aircraft and trams.
£3.50 per child, £6.50 per adult, Family of 2+2 £18, Under 5 is 50p
Toilets on site
Dogs on leads are welcome
Masks to be worn in the indoor areas please
Hand sanitiser available
If you take your time to look at everything you could easily spend 3/4 hours here especially if you have a bite to eat. (It does say tearoom on the sign but we couldn't find it)
Tuesday-Sunday 10-4 with last admission 1 hour before closing.
How to get here
Old Washington road, Sunderland, SR5 3HZ
More Info HERE
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