AMBITIOUS plans for the future of one of Carlisle’s top visitor attractions has won praise from former Tate Gallery director Sir Nicholas Serota.

City councillors heard from trailblazing museum bosses that Tullie House is garnering a national and international reputation for its collections.

The venue’s growing status was discussed as the charitable trust responsible for running it set out their long-term vision to draw in more visitors and develop it as a community space for the city’s citizens.

Speaking to the city council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, museum director Andrew Mackay revealed that Mr Serota, chairman of Arts Council England, had given a “very passionate speech about the quality of Tullie House and the work being done”.

The well-respected art historian and curator had made the comments at the London launch of Project Tullie, a long-term masterplan setting out how the Carlisle venue will become a “cultural hub”.

Summarising the breadth and scope of the vision, Andrew Smith, chairman of the board of trustees, added: “It’s not just about the building: it’s about how the community can engage with the collections and how the museum can be much more of a social space, how it can draw tourists into the area; how it can benefit the economy.”

Tullie House already caters for about 30,000 Carlisle residents including community groups, charities and parties of school children. And, because of its growing success, the visitor attraction is having to change its layout to free up more space.

Mr Mackay said: “One of the challenges is that those programmes are being more and more successful.

“People are beginning to see Tullie House as a place to go socially but also for health and wellbeing – and the building can’t cope.”

Under the plans, the building itself will not be expanded but “re-oriented” to allow two school groups to be taught on the site simultaneously.

At present, the museum has an exhibition on Rembrandt on loan from the British Museum and a Turner exhibition from the Tate Gallery, bringing in an average 400 visitors a day.

But grants the city council gives to Tullie House have been slashed over the last decade, prompting heritage chiefs to seek new ways to boost future income.

The business masterplan is due to go back to the the executive in mid-December for a decision.

Presently, the city authority provides core funding to meet the venue’s the day-to-day running costs, but this cash injection has been reducing since the trust was set up in 2011.

The council shelled out £1.3m in 2011/12 but this has stood at under £740,000 for the last four years and is expected to fall again over the next four years.

To offset this, the Trust is aiming to almost double visitor numbers in the next five years, from 40,743 in 2018/19 to 80,000 by 2025.

Museum bosses also want to quadruple admissions income from £130,000 to £500,000 over the same time period.

The plans include the creation of a permanent costume gallery to showcase its world class textile collections as well as drawing in international visitors from countries like China.

The trust is also working on ways to use its collections to telegraph the region’s links to Hadrian’s Wall, and encouraging more people from Carlisle itself to visit the venue.

At this stage it is not clear exactly how much cash and support the Trust will be seeking from the council and what effect their ambitious plans will have on their future cash needs.

The trust has asked to receive the council cash on a four-year funding cycle.

This would require a change to the present agreement which is still to be thrashed out.

In December 2010, the city council approved the principle of establishing a new charitable trust to run the museum.

The building transferred from the city council to the new, independent charitable company the following May.