Dr Sarah Price is head of Locomotion, a rail museum located in North East England, where she is responsible for strategic and operational management. Locomotion is part of the National Railway Museum and a member of the Science Museum Group. Located in Shildon, the world’s first railway town, Locomotion tells the global story of the railways, taking inspiration from its location and housing over 70 rail vehicles from the national collection.
“It’s imperative that we have diversity of thought if we are to succeed. No one person has all the answers to the challenges we face so including different voices is so important.”
I studied at the University of Birmingham from 1989 to 1996, reading for a BA Hons in Medieval and Modern History and then undertaking a PhD in social and economic history. I very briefly worked at Cadbury whilst finishing my thesis before moving to London to take up a role at The National Archives.
I stayed there for five years advising visitors on historical research and latterly managing the online learning resources for schools. After having my first daughter, we moved to the North East and I started working at Durham University in a variety of roles. This included creating online learning resources before being tasked with managing the learning, exhibition and visitor services teams. I stayed at the university for 14 years before taking up my current position as head of Locomotion in late 2018.
Locomotion displays highlights of the national collection of rail vehicles in Shildon, the world’s first railway town, in County Durham. The museum celebrates early pioneers of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and their impact on the global railway story. It is home to historic vehicles such as Locomotion No.1, the first steam-powered locomotive to run on a public railway, and for a temporary period, Stephenson’s Rocket, as well as more modern icons including the world’s fastest diesel and a Pacer.
Perhaps unusually for a museum, we also have a publicly viewable workshop that allows visitors to watch the engineering skills of staff and volunteers in action, restoring a wide variety of vehicles, including a Class 306 which transformed post-war commuter travel.
Probably the best job in the world
One of the most enjoyable aspects of being head of Locomotion is that no day is ever the same. My priorities though are making sure all our visitors have an enjoyable and safe visit, and that our colleagues are supported in all their endeavours.
This means I can be involved in tasks as varied as planning our engagement programme for the year ahead, to chairing health and safety meetings, as well as working with our Masterplan Team on our capital build project, to supporting the team that runs our passenger train services. I also meet funders and donors, as well as working with partners from other cultural organisations on regional initiatives. I often say that I have the best job in the world!
Ensuring all voices are heard
When I first joined Locomotion, one of our volunteers told me that he would probably upset me by always telling me what he thought. I reassured him that the opposite would be the case. It’s imperative that we have diversity of thought if we are to succeed. No one person has all the answers to the challenges we face so including different voices is so important.
I also want our museum to be open and welcoming to everyone – visitors and colleagues alike. We will not succeed if we only ever champion one narrative and one way of doing things.
Leaving no one behind
Locomotion is located in an area that faces many challenges as a result of post-industrialisation. In fact, County Durham has more ‘left behind’ places than anywhere else.
We want to make sure that our neighbours and those from further afield feel welcome in the museum. This includes ensuring that they can see their stories in the museum when they visit so we are undertaking a huge redisplay project that puts an emphasis on what happened in Shildon, County Durham and the wider North East.
We have also launched new volunteering and community partnership plans which have inclusivity at their heart, and are working with local partner organisations to tackle some of the barriers that people face when visiting us. There is much to do but I am confident that our plans will make a real difference.
My historical hero
One of my heroes is Josephine Butler, a Victorian social reformer who was born in the North East. Following the death of her daughter, she became a passionate advocate for women’s rights, often acting against the social mores of the time. As well as campaigning for increased access to education, she led the fight to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act which subjected prostitutes to intrusive medical examinations. The campaign lasted nearly twenty years but she was ultimately successful.
Science and engineering careers are for everyone
I am passionate about inspiring the next generation to think about careers in science and engineering, particularly the opportunities offered by the rail industry. Throughout March we are running a series of events designed to encourage young people into these careers and raise awareness of how science and engineering are part of everyday life.
Excitingly, we were also involved in a special event to celebrate women in rail on International Women’s Day. Flying Scotsman, the world’s most famous locomotive, made several trips on East Lancashire Railway with the locomotive being operated by an all-female crew.
A year to remember
This year is a really exciting one for us. Not only have we just put Rocket on display, uniting the two most famous Stephenson locomotives, Locomotion No 1 and Rocket for the first time in history, but we are currently building an extension to the museum which will make us home to the largest undercover collection of historic rail vehicles in the world once it opens. And to finish the year off in style, Locomotion will be hosting the Centenary Festival for Flying Scotsman in December. 2023 will definitely be a year to remember!