The director of the V&A Museum of Childhood will join Lakeland Arts as chief executive next year.

Rhian Harris, who has led the V&A Museum of Childhood for 10 years, will take over as Gordon Watson retires in February.

Mr Watson has been with Lakeland Arts for eight years.

Lakeland Arts has a portfolio of galleries and museums in the Lake District, including Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry in Kendal, Blackwell The Arts & Crafts House in Bowness-on-Windermere, and the soon-to-open Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories.

Ms Harris said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be appointed chief executive of Lakeland Arts, building on the amazing work accomplished by my predecessor, Gordon Watson.

“I’m thrilled to be working with such high quality and diverse arts, cultural and heritage sites and collections, within the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site of the Lake District.

“The opening of Windermere Jetty and the development of Abbot Hall present unique opportunities to transform Lakeland Arts and build on its reputation as one of the most important arts organisations in the North.

“I’m committed to making Lakeland Arts matter more to a wider range of people, developing deeper connections with our audiences and stakeholders and to creating programmes that respond to their needs.”

During her directorship at V&A Museum of Childhood, she led a period of transformation with vibrant exhibition programmes and outstanding engagement work with local communities.

Prior to that, she was director at the Foundling Museum and started her museums career at the Wellcome Trust.

Educated at the University of Essex, where she graduated with a BA in art history and theory, she went on to complete a masters in museum and gallery management.

Mr Watson said: “I am delighted that the trustees have appointed Rhian as my successor. Rhian led a period of inspirational change and development in her 10 years as director of the V&A Museum of Childhood, more than doubling visitor numbers and embedding the museum in the local community.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Lakeland Arts as the organisation looks forward to opening Windermere Jetty in spring and redeveloping Abbot Hall Art Gallery in time for its 60th anniversary in 2022.”

Martin Ainscough, Lakeland Arts’ chair of trustees, added: “Rhian joins us at an extremely important time for Lakeland Arts. She brings strong leadership, an enthusiasm for our collections and an energy and ambition to take Lakeland Arts venues to a wider audience.

“Over the last eight years Gordon Watson has transformed Lakeland Arts in so many ways, not least in forming a strong team which Rhian will lead. As chair of the trustees I am delighted that she is joining us.”