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Closures hit museums across UK

Patrick Steel, Issue 112/11, p5, 01.11.2012
Thirty museums and heritage sites have shut in past two years
Research by Museums Journal has found that 42 museums, galleries and heritage sites have shut over the past decade, most of them in the past two years.

The closures are spread across the UK, but England has been hardest hit, with a cluster of eight closures in Greater London reflecting the concentration of museums in the area.

The research shows that small local authority museums are most vulnerable, with funding cuts the overriding reason for the closures. But it also reveals that larger organisations are not immune to the funding cuts, with sites closed at National Museums Liverpool, the British Museum and the British Film Institute.

The findings tally with a recent report published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which showed net current expenditure on culture by local authorities dropped £256m in the last financial year – a 7.8% fall.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said: “It seems that the pace of closures is quickening and I worry that increasing numbers of museums, and small local authority museums in particular, will find it harder to survive in the current financial climate as cuts hit. Sadly, I don’t see the situation improving any time soon.”

The most recent closures are Clarke Hall in Wakefield, which is being sold by the council, and Lackham Museum of Agricultural and Rural Life in Wiltshire, both of which welcomed their final visitors in September.

Other museums under threat include the National Museum of Costume in Dumfries, part of National Museums Scotland, which may close following an internal review

The review is also looking at reducing staff numbers, implementing efficiency savings and boosting earned income, as well as attracting donations and sponsorship across the whole of National Museums Scotland.

Copeland Borough Council is to vote in February next year on a proposal to make savings of £325,000 by closing the Beacon Museum in Whitehaven, which has 15 employees.

Meanwhile, four staff at Harborough Museum in Leicestershire may be made redundant if proposals to refurbish the building that houses the museum go ahead.

Harborough District Council was due to vote on the proposals as Museums Journal went to press. Middlesbrough Council is expected to close the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum from this month until March, for the second year in a row.

The John Kirby Museum of Scouting in Oxford will find out next month whether it will survive, after its landlord, the Scout Association, issued notice that it must vacate its current home by October 2013.

View Museum closures in a larger map

Are any museums in your area under threat? Let us know below.


Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
07.11.2012, 12:13
The closure of so many museums is the direct result of your insistence on universal free entry to museums. When I am abroad I have to pay upwards of ten pounds to visit any museum, yet foreigners flood into our museums for nothing. Free entry for genuine students is not a problem, but making museums free to everyone inevitab;y leads to an added burden to tax payers, leading to cuts in funding. Most visitors to museums would be happy to pay an entry charge or make a donation. Many public museums, such as the Railway Museum in York in which I have a special interest as desperately short of money to look after our heritage, and money from visitors would make all the difference if it was allowed.As the owner of a small specialist museum, The World of Mechanical Music in Northleach, Glos., we are able to charge admission, and indeed that is our only income, but we then then find ourselves in competition with publicly .owned museums which are publicly funded, and visitors often say "Do we have to pay?" We also have to pay tax on our admission charges at twenty percent. In our case admission includes a conducted tour in which many antique instruments are played. There could be nothing more educational than our tours, and yet we have to pay twenty percent VAT on them. I do hope you will take on board what I am saying and re-consider the policies of the Museums Association which are I believe mistaken and which lead to the museum closures you have reported. With al best wishes,Kind regardsKeith Harding
Meriel Stokoe
MA Member
01.11.2012, 23:56
My heartfelt commiserations to the communities that have lost their museums and to the professionals who have lost their jobs due to the above closures.As former Collections Officer at The Beacon, Whitehaven, I am extremely concerned by Copeland Borough Councils proposal to close the museum next year. The area has been in decline for many years and The Beacon is an amazing resource! To a large degree the potential of The Beacon has been untapped due to the short sightedness of the council, and this latest news is confirmation of that. My question to the MA is what can done in the way of advocacy so that The Beacon and other local authority museums do not become another statistic?
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
22.11.2012, 10:18
Thanks Simon, I will add it to the map.
Simon Carter
Director, Avoncroft Museum
21.11.2012, 21:04
Your list doesn't include Bromsgrove Museum which closed in 2009 (you did report it at the time). There's still a hope it may re-open as ongoing negotiations with a local trust which if it can raise the money to buy the building the Council will transfer the collection back.
Victoria Barlow
Manager Conservation and Heritage, Wiltshire CC Heritage Services
07.11.2012, 18:36
It is indeed a tragically large number of museums we have lost. I would be interested to know how many have closed because of spending cuts and how many were struggling for years before the current economic climate dealt the final blow. It is vital that all museums take a good look at their sustainability and make possibly difficult decisions before they are forced into a position they can't return from. I should also clarify that Lackham museum mentioned above closed after the FE college which ran it decided it didn't fit their core purpose.
07.11.2012, 17:19
It is a very sad situation and one exacerbated by a lack of understanding that the arts, in their broadest sense, are central to everyday life. I believe that the lack of available external funding will continue beyond this current economic downturn and it is through effective and creative partnerships that the smaller institutions will survive and even grow. Sharing expertise and specialist knowledge will enable art organisations to find innovative ways to draw in audiences and keep expenditure down. I was the Collections Co-ordinator at Dartington Hall, which has a fabulous collection of early twentieth century pictures among other wonderful ceramics, furniture and sculpture, much which remains in store, after the Archive and Collections Department was closed and the staff made redundant in March this year. A sad indictment of a bigger country-wide problem - the arts are always vulnerable when times are tough.
Nell Hoare
MA Member
07.11.2012, 13:24
Can I add a piece of good news? Your map shows the Textile Conservation Centre as having closed - and indeed it was closed by the University of Southampton in October 2009.However the Centre's supporting Trust the TC Foundation worked with the University of Glasgow to establish a successor - The Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History. The new Centre might not have the catchiest name but it is a more than worthy successor to the TCC. It has the benefit of all the TCC's equipment, intellectual property etc. Since it opened in 2010 it has gone from strength to strength - it now has students from nine countries and it will be hosting an international conference in December 2012, the culmination of the work of a Getty funded international research network that has been active at the Centre over the last two years. Glasgow University could not be a better home for the Centre and for Textile Conservation. The welcome from museum and conservation colleagues in Scotland has been fantastic and the Centre benefits hugely from close links with Glasgow Museums. Nell Hoareformerly Director of the TCC
07.11.2012, 12:42
Have we ever had a government that put the arts as a priority? Do we have artists or creative individuals designing cities? With the amount of money successive governments have wasted, we could have restored all the crumling and endanngered architecturally significant sites arund the UK. This is so so sad.
Stephen McManus
Keeper of Collections, Milford House Museum
05.11.2012, 22:40
As a curator and founder of the Milford House Museum who has struggled for over ten years I find it very upsetting at the loss of so many marvellous museums and to hear that Glover house was forced to sell off its furniture. I which local authorities would realise their importance. I fear when the government does realise the inmportance of museums it will be too late. To all the independant museums who struggle I say keep fighting!