Inside Doncaster's new £14million gallery, library and museum - and when it could open

It is the £14 million town centre landmark that has brought steam locos back to the heart of Doncaster – and you could be walking around it in weeks.

There may not be a concrete opening date for the new Danum Library, Gallery and Museum at Waterdale – but the Free Press this week became the first newspaper to get a sneak tour of the building which its bosses hope will be delighting visitors as soon as next month.

Chief executive Damien Allen said he was impatient wanting it to be open so residents could see the exhibits and art that is going to be on display, and admitted that the virtual opening it had was no substitute for the real thing.

He said: “We’re working on a date in May at the moment. We’ve got a number of things that we’ve got to conclude with fire (regulations) and also with training of staff, so we haven’t got a complete date, but it will be some time in May.”

Bill McHugh in the rail heritage centre at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum

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He said having done zoology as a degree he was drawn to the natural history second of the venue, but said there was vast array of items. He added: As a child I remember crawling across some of the locomotives at the National Railway Museum so it's an absolute joy to be able to have two of their locomotives down in the rail heritage sector.”

His enthusiasm for the rail section is shared by the museum’s project manager, Bill McHugh, who took the Free Press around the venue. He said he thought the building would become iconic for the borough,

He said his heart now belonged to the steam engines which stand in the lower ground floor of the venue, in the new rail heritage section, having spent many hours working to the arrange for them to come to Doncaster They are on loan from the National Railway Museum (NRM)

The children's library at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum

He added: “I wasn’t originally particularly interested in the railways or the locomotives, but the rail heritage centre with the loan of the locomotives and the Doncaster Grammar School Collection really is something to be seen.”

When visitors arrive at the main entrance, the first thing they will see is the library section. The children’s library is in a separate section of the museum, with a spectacular view of the railway engines. Some library books are kept at other locations, close to relevant sections of the museum. For instance, art books can be found in the top floor art gallery, where my tour took me next.

At present, the art gallery is populated with local art, depicting iconic scenes in Doncaster, as well as some work by local artists.

But at one end, is a door which resembles the sort you may expect to see on a prison cell or a bank vault.

Bill McHugh demonstrates the Donny Derby at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum

A hefty, industrial-looking steel lock protrudes out. its window is just a narrow slit, surrounded by steel bolts.

But that is the door that will open new possibilities for Doncaster, as it meets the security standards needed to host visiting exhibitions of some of Britain’s most treasured national exhibits.

There are already talks going on about bringing items to be seen in the borough for the first time.

Descending the stairs, the visitor arrives in the main museum section. Like the art gallery, what is on show here is intended to change every six months or so, so that visitors will be able to see new things on different visits. The idea is to keep things fresh, said Mr Allen.

The door to the secure exhibition room at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum

A timeline around the room shows the history of Doncaster, back from ancient times to the present day. There is plenty of nostalgia in there. Some may spot the 1980 Doncaster Rovers season ticket. The timeline also tells how One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson was inspired to audition for the X Factor after performing in Grease at Hall Cross School; and it looks back at the filming of the sitcom Open All Hours.

Other musical history is represented by items including a silver disc loaned from Graham Oliver, who found fame with the rock band Saxon.

There are children’s activities dotted around, such as a dressing up corner, and a horse racing game. A shop front resembling Arkwright’s has a play shop area.

A floor down reveals the children’s library, which boasts a grandstand view of the railway locos. Nearby is an education room, between the twin towers of the frontage of the former Doncaster Girls Grammar School. It has been named Paddington, after a poll of children.

That frontage is best viewed from the café – where tables are placed in front of the old school’s doorway, behind which a staircase winds up past the green tiled, old-school corridors, and past a heavyweight statue, The Pilgrim Woman, for which the floor had to be reinforced.

The lower ground floor is home to the most spectacular sight – the two steam engines, Green Arrow, and LNER number 251, along with items from the Hall Cross collection.

Bill McHugh in the KOYLI Museum at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum

With the engines now in place for some weeks, the smell of engine oil now fills the air, as does at the NRM. Officials say the Hall Cross collection has interested even the NRM, and believe people are likely to travel to Doncaster to see the railways section, potentially boosting the local economy.

Sharing the floor, is the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum regimental collection, with items telling of hundreds of years of military history. Dominating one end of a section which was designed in consultation with the KOYLI regimental association, is a giant memorial to the regiment's fifth battalion, bearing hundreds of names of its soldiers who lost their lives in World War.

Visitors look set to be able to judge the venue themselves next month.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.

Bill McHugh in the education room at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum