Sarah Newman manages the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth.

She studied history at Oxford, lived in Japan for two years and has worked in arts, education and charities for many years. Ten years ago she returned to her first love – museums – and has now been at the Russell-Cotes for four years.

The Russell-Cotes is a flamboyant seaside villa, built by Victorian Bournemouth hoteliers, Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes and filled with their eclectic collection of fine and decorative arts and souvenirs from their travels around the world.


Q:What would be your perfect day out in Dorset?

A: I would spend the day walking or on my bike in one of my favourite parts of the county – Purbeck, Cranborne or west Dorset. I love history, so it would have to incorporate a visit to a historic and atmospheric building or place such as Maiden Castle, Corfe or a beautiful church in a wonderful setting. There would have to be a reward at the end such as a trip to the pub or a cream tea.


Q: What are your fondest memories of the county?

A: In the 1980s, while I was working in London, I came down to visit my brother who was living in Langton Herring and working at the old naval base at Portland. I spent many wonderful weekends in west Dorset, walking the coast path and to Hardy’s Monument, the Fleet and drinking probably rather too much in the local hostelries. My brother’s housemate is now my partner of 30 years, which might have had something to do with it!


Q: What has been your proudest achievement?

A: Probably my book – Small Steps Forward – which I wrote 20 years ago, from my own experience to help families with disabled children. It won an award from the BMA (British Medical Association) and has been translated into seven languages. Even now, in the UK, or when I give talks in Siberia or central Asia, parents tell me how much it helped them during hard times.


Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

A: From visitors and from the amazing potential of the Russell-Cotes. After too long spent looking at a computer screen, I regularly head up into the museum and have a chat with our visitors. They are often overwhelmed by this extraordinary place because of its theatricality and its powerful emotional punch, which you can’t really imagine until you come in. It appeals on so many levels – the art, the décor, the views, the travel and the story of Annie and Merton and their amazing generosity in giving their house in trust to the people of Bournemouth. There is so much that we can still do to open up the collection to people and to showcase more widely its importance. Gradually, with our redisplay and our upcoming Pre-Raphaelite exhibition we are demonstrating how much more we can achieve.


Q: What would be your favourite thing to do when you have a day off?

A: Like a lot of women of my age, outside work, I still have a lot of responsibilities – an elderly mother and a disabled son. So on a day off I enjoy spending time with my family either at home cooking and gardening or walking or cycling nearby. A rare treat is a trip to see an art exhibition in Southampton, Salisbury, Oxford or London with a girlfriend!


Q: Where is your favourite place to eat in the county?

A: I love going to the Nippon Inn, a long-standing Japanese Restaurant in the Charminster Road in Bournemouth. I lived in Japan for two years and I find it wonderfully nostalgic especially as you can take your shoes off and sit on the ‘tatami’ mats, eating off low tables in true Japanese style.


Q: What three things do you associate with Dorset?

A: Land, sea and sky. I love the pastoral landscapes and how the built environments have grown out of the ground using local stone and natural materials. The coast is exquisite. Everyday I have to pinch myself as I lock-up my bike outside the museum and see the most amazing view from the Isle of Wight to Old Harry Rocks which is constantly transformed by the weather, the season and the light. Finally the sky – I love those big views and enormous skies.


Q: If you could summarise the county in one word what would it be?

A: Elemental.