The Shrine's Visitor Centre - known as the Welcome Centre - opened to the public in November 2008. It is staffed for most of the day by a team of volunteer stewards* and, to everyone's surprise, during that first winter a steady stream of visitors to Walsingham passed through the doors. Naturally the following summer saw the Welcome Centre become an essential part of the Shrine experience. The comments from visitors have been very positive many suggesting that "at last - we now know what Walsingham is all about!"
The four large wall display panels will give visitors sufficient basic information about the rise, fall and restoration of the Shrine. Underneath each display is a Delve Deeper book which gives more information on the history of Christianity and the Shrine. Between each of the displays is a quiver of scrolls - each scroll when unrolled gives a little more information, helping to build up a complete picture of the development of Walsingham.
A touch-screen Kiosk is proving very popular with both children and adults. One can explore topics of interest about both the village and the Shrine - just touch the screen in the appropriate place and new information and pictures are displayed. The images lead one on into investigations of greater depth. There is an 'overflow' monitor screen which acts as a secondary display and enables standers-by to join in the touch-screen presentations.
The architects have created a small video room off the main gallery. Running on a continuous loop is an eight minute film which traces the history of the Shrine from 1061 to the present day. The film - made by the Shrine's Visitor Services Officer, Claire Wheeler - has entranced everyone who has seen it. Using assorted members of Shrine staff to play the parts of medieval and Tudor characters plus archive and modern film footage, is perhaps the best introduction for those who have never visited Walsingham before. And, needless to say, it is also being enjoyed by those who have been on pilgrimage many times! Displayed in the video room is a portrait of Father Patten, the restorer of the Shrine and replicas of the old Walsingham Priory seal - the design of which enabled Fr Patten to have the present image of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Holy House carved in the 1920's.
Younger visitors are fascinated by the Pilgrimage Way display. A series of large footprints (which can be lifted to reveal displays hidden underneath) act as a pilgrimage time-line. At the far end of the footprints one reaches a model of the Holy House. Its roof can be lifted to reveal the interior.
By the doors is displayed a large scale version of Enid Chadwick's map of the village of Walsingham, first produced in 1935 and then updated on several occasions. The version on display dates from 1963.
The Welcome Centre was largely funded from a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
*If you would like more information about joining the team of Welcome Centre Stewards, please go to Support Us/Volunteers.