Kirklees Council is proposing to close Red House Museum in Yorkshire

Museums across the UK face closure threat

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 06.07.2016
MA voices concern about ‘disturbing’ number of venues at risk
Kirklees Council in Yorkshire is one of a number of local authorities across the UK considering museum closures. The council launched a public consultation this week on proposals to halve the number of museums it runs in order to cope with government funding cuts.

The plans would see the council close Dewsbury Museum and Red House Museum after this year’s October half term. Their collections would be either transferred or stored, and “appropriate uses” found for the buildings.

In the longer term, the council is also proposing to close Tolson Museum and Huddersfield Art Gallery and merge their collections in a new town-centre site. The council’s other two heritage sites, Bagshaw Museum and Oakwell Hall and Country Park, would remain open.

A statement from the council said: “We are committed to working closely with Friends organisations, volunteers, audiences and local communities and partners in the development of future services.”

The consultation will close on 24 July.

Meanwhile Horsforth Village Museum in nearby Leeds is under threat because of a plan by Leeds City Council to relocate its housing office, which shares a building with the museum, and sell the 18th-century premises.
 
West Midlands

In the West Midlands, Dudley Museum and Art Gallery is due to close later this year as part of the council’s cost-cutting plans, with the building sold for redevelopment.

After a petition against the closure attracted more than 4,000 signatures, the council proposed a compromise last month that will see the museum’s exhibits relocated to the borough’s archive centre, which has better parking and transport links.
 
In Shropshire, the county council is planning to cut its £800,000 museum and tourism budget to zero from 2017, and is asking town councils and other stakeholders, including Friends groups and private firms, to look at taking over the venues.

Museums facing an uncertain future include Much Wenlock Museum and Ludlow Museum and Research Centre, a purpose-built facility for the county’s significant natural history collections. Shrewsbury Town Council is exploring the possibility of taking over Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

South East

In Hertfordshire, Broxbourne Borough Council is facing government cuts and is consulting with the public on the future of Lowewood Museum. In order to be able to meet its financial commitments over the next four years, the council will need to increase its income or reduce its expenditure by £2.3m. To date no decisions on how this will be achieved have been reached but the council has put forward a number of alternative options and is seeking the views of its residents on those proposals.
 
A council spokeswoman said: "One of the options put forward is seeking views on the cessation of the council’s annual funding for the Borough’s Lowewood Museum, which is £95,000. However, a recent funding award from Arts Council England could facilitate a move of the museum to a new location which may provide scope for the museum to grow its business in order to reduce costs and may well lead to the facility becoming more self-sufficient. The council will be taking this into consideration prior to reaching any conclusions about the future of Lowewood."

Meanwhile the Firepower Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich Arsenal, London, is set to shut permanently on 8 July after failing to hit a target of 200,000 visitors a year.

The bulk of the museum’s military collections will be moved to Wiltshire, where a new heritage centre is due to be built by 2020. Some of the collection will remain in the borough to go on display in the Greenwich Heritage Centre, which is opening at Woolwich Arsenal later this year.

Wales

In north Wales, Powys County Council closed Lladidloes Museum last week and made its one member of staff redundant. The council said the closure, which was announced with just three days’ warning, was a temporary measure while discussions took place over the possibility of merging the town’s library and museum in order to make savings.

County councillor Gareth Morgan told News North Wales that he was “appalled” by the decision, criticising the council’s “back door approach”.

“Usually when something is closed for discussions to keep going, then it rarely opens up again,” he said.

Powys County Council has also transferred ownership of Newtown Textile Museum to a group of volunteers, while elsewhere in Wales a petition of 5,000 signatures has been submitted to Swansea City Council calling for Swansea Museum to be safeguarded after the council proposed a 50% cut to its funding.

North West

Lancaster City Council has agreed to commission a complete redesign of its museum service in response to a report published last month by the independent museum consultants Aitken, Prince and Pearce on the future of the city’s museums.

The report recommended closing two venues, Lancaster Maritime Museum and Cottage Museum, and redeveloping Lancaster City Museum, which reopened just last week after suffering extensive flood damage in 2015. The report also recommends building a new, multi-purpose cultural hub on Morecambe seafront.

The council has not yet come to a decision on the future of any of the museums, but is planning a more detailed review of their long-term management options. “While finance is certainly a factor, the key driver for us is make sure we have a museums service that will really excite future generations,” said Darren Clifford, the council’s cabinet member for culture and tourism.

In the wider Lancashire county, five other museums are at risk after Lancashire County Council cut its museum budget from £1.3m to less than £100,000. The museums have been given a reprieve until the end of September to find third parties to take over their management. According to the Aitken, Prince and Pearce report, plans are being considered to redevelop one of the at-risk museums, Judge’s Lodgings in Lancaster, as a hotel and fine dining restaurant.

The Museums Association’s (MA) director Sharon Heal said the number of museums under threat of closure was “disturbing”.

“While we recognise that local authorities are under pressure and have to make tough spending decisions, there is a danger that whole communities will be left without museums and the rich and diverse stories that they can tell,” said Heal.
 
“The MA has this week launched a Museum Taskforce to try to address these issues and to explore solutions that will ensure sustainable futures for local museums.”

Clarification
17.08.2016


Broxbourne Borough Council wishes to clarify that no decision on the future of Lowewood Museum has been reached and a public consultation is still underway.  

Do you know of any more museums at risk? Email geraldine@museumsassociation.org or tweet us @MuseumsAssoc under the hashtag #museumcuts to let us know.

The MA's ethics committee is producing guidance on museum closure and would like to hear from people who have gone through the process or experienced a near miss. Contact Alistair Brown alistair@museumsassociation.org if you would like to contribute.

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