A Carrickfergus woman is steaming into a new role as general manager of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.
Ruth Harper, who is currently Visitor Service Manager with Ulster Rugby at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, will take up her new position on November 14.
At Whitehead, the RPSI is in process of developing a new £3.1m railway museum, which the Society aims to open to the public around Easter 2017. Among the attractions will be the opportunity to see restoration work in progress on the RPSI’s unique collection of steam locomotives and carriages.
At present the site is closed to the public but when the museum opens it will offer audio tours and multi-media displays, plus a chance to examine steam engines close up and to walk through historic carriages. The Society’s aim is to attract more than 15,000 visitors during the first full year of operation.
RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw said the board was delighted to appoint Ruth to the position.
He said: “Although there was keen interest and a strong field of applicants for this important post, Ruth proved to be an exceptional candidate and we are confident that she will bring all the necessary qualities, knowledge, abilities and commitment to the job.
“She has considerable experience in the areas of hospitality and museums which will be an asset to her in this new role. We very much look forward to working with her and to seeing Whitehead Railway Museum evolve into a major tourist attraction.”
Ruth said she was looking forward to her new role with the RPSI.
She said that living in Carrickfergus, and having a holiday caravan in Portrush, she had long been familiar with the Society and its steam trains, such as the Portrush Flyer.
She added: “The work the RPSI has done is a credit to the organisation and I really wanted to be part of the next stage of operationally readiness. With my previous work experience I know I can add value to the Society. I believe strongly in preserving our heritage for future generations, be that rugby or steam locomotives, and I am delighted to be the successful candidate for the RPSI as its General Manager.”
Ruth feels the potential for the museum project is enormous with a broad appeal to families, tourists, railway enthusiasts, school parties and corporate clients.
She said: “We have the ability to establish and grow the business. I firmly believe we can develop this into the new must-see visitor attraction in Northern Ireland in 2017.
“This museum will have a significant impact on the Whitehead and East Antrim tourism offering. It will drive visitor numbers and generate job opportunities as well as bringing money and spend into the area.”
Prior to taking up her current role with Ulster Rugby, where she has developed a visitor experience with a new museum and visitor experience in the Nevin Spence Centre, Ruth worked for more than 12 years as Visitor Services Manager at the W5 tourist attraction in Belfast.
Before that she had experience as a function services and conference manager in the hospitality sector. She is a former pupil of Carrickfergus Grammar School and an honours graduate in Hospitality Management from the University of Ulster at Jordanstown.
The RPSI plans to appoint an Events and Marketing Officer and then an Education and Interpretation Officer to work in Ruth’s team.
Funding for the project has been provided by Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland and administered by Tourism Northern Ireland with additional support from Mid and East Antrim Council and Ulster Garden Villages.