Rhiannon Hiles has been appointed as the chief executive of Beamish: The Living Museum of the North in County Durham.
She has been with the museum for 26 years, joining as a demonstrator and education assistant in 1996, moving to the role of deputy director six years ago.
Hiles has been leading the museum since its previous chief executive, Richard Evans, resigned in May 2020 for unspecified reasons. Prior to this, he had been suspended by the museum pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing, after concerns led Durham County Council to conduct an audit of the institution's finances.
The matter, described as “a serious incident relating to financial concerns” was subject to investigations by the Charity Commission and the police. The latter investigation is ongoing.
Beamish reopened to visitors on 17 May under Step 3 of the government’s Covid roadmap. It relies on visitors for 95% of its income.
As deputy director, Hiles is credited with restarting the £20m Remaking Beamish project, which includes a 1950s town, 1950s farm and expansion of the 1820s landscape, including overnight accommodation. In February, the project received an additional £975,500 from the government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund.
“I am absolutely delighted to be taking up the role of chief executive officer at Beamish,” Hiles said. “I was brought up in the north east and I am very proud of the region’s heritage. I’m passionate about the role Beamish plays in people’s lives, our communities and our reach nationally and internationally.
“Our people are the heart of Beamish and I am very much looking forward to working further with the museum’s staff, volunteers, stakeholders and partners. I am honoured and excited to be leading Beamish into its next phase and towards an even brighter future.”
Councillor John-Paul Stephenson, who sits on Beamish’s board of trustees, said: “The board was determined to make a strong appointment to the role of chief executive officer and, with the help of chosen specialist head-hunters Saxton Bampfylde, conducted a wide-ranging search nationally and internationally.
“There was a strong, diverse field of candidates, and after a two-stage process, including external stakeholders, the board concluded that the right person to lead Beamish into the future was Rhiannon Hiles, the current deputy director.”
Hiles has a background in architectural design history and an MA in museum studies from the University of Newcastle. She took part in the Oxford Cultural Leaders programme at Saïd Business School, is on the board of the Association of European Open Air Museums and is a mentor for the Museums Association.