Haig Pit Mining Museum. © David Martin and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0

Cumbrian mining museum closes

Polly Foreman, 13.01.2016
Venue shuts less than year after completion of major restoration
Financial problems have forced a Cumbria coal mining museum to close less than a year after it reopened following a major redevelopment.

The Haig Pit Mining Museum in Whitehaven reopened in February last year after the completion of an 18-month restoration, which was supported by a £2.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Despite exceeding its expected 15,000 annual visitors post renovation, the museum has encountered several problems over the course of the year.

Kay Dempsey, a member of the board of trustees of the museum, said: “Things generally work out much more difficult and more expensive than you think. We have spent a lot of time with trustees and volunteers and staff in the last 12 months trying to get support from those who could either financially assist or those who could influence others.”

The museum employed eight members of staff and also used 28 volunteers.

Mark Kirkbride, the chief exceutive of West Cumbria Mining, which frequently exhibited at the museum, said: “The announcement of the closure of the Haig Pit Mining Museum comes as a complete shock…I believe the museum was a vital way of commemorating the extensive coal mining history of West Cumbria, whilst aiming to be a key contributor locally in terms of facilities and community involvement.”

According to Dempsey, the museum has “a collection exit plan” for its industrial memorabilia and documentation that will ensure its security.

An HLF spokesman said: “This is very sad news and our thoughts go out to everyone who has been affected. Our staff have worked closely with the museum over many years and recognise the importance of the attraction and its heritage to Whitehaven.

“HLF and others will continue to offer our support to the museum during these challenging times and we will be meeting with the Mayor and the Copeland Community Fund shortly to explore options for the best way forward.”

The amount it would take to save the museum is, according to Dempsey, “not a small amount of money”, but funders have expressed hope that the closure will be temporary.

Tim Knowles, a Cumbria councillor and board member of co-funder the Copeland Fund, said: “there is a lot of discussion going on between the funders, none of whom want to see Haig closed if a sustainable future can be worked out.”

The board of trustees and funders are meeting this weekend to discuss the museum’s future.

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