Three national waterways museums need £11m over next ten years to stay afloat - Museums Association

Three national waterways museums need £11m over next ten years to stay afloat

The three national waterways museums, at Ellesmere Port, Gloucester Docks and Stoke Bruerne, need £11m over the next 10 years …
Jane Morris
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The three national waterways museums, at Ellesmere Port, Gloucester Docks and Stoke Bruerne, need £11m over the next 10 years if their future is to be secured. The Waterways Trust, which runs the independent museums, has asked the department for culture for £1.1m a year as part of the next spending round, which starts in 2005.
Roger Hanbury, the chief executive of the Waterways Trust, said £300,000 is needed each year to manage the collections, £500,000 is needed for conservation and £300,000 is to allow the museums to offer free entry. The museums currently receive about £450,000 from British Waterways, and earn another £1m from ticket sales, shop, cafe, boat trips and donations.

Hanbury said the difficulties were caused by a number of factors. Visitor numbers have fallen more than 11 per cent since 2001, which he believes is partly a result of free entry to national museums. 'At Ellesmere Port we lost 19 per cent of our visitors when free entry came in at the Merseyside museums,' Hanbury said. He added that the popularity of the Big Pit (also free now it is part of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales) has affected the Gloucester site. Visitors to the Ellesmere Port and Gloucester Docks sites total about 100,000 a year, with the loss of income since 2001 estimated at around £100,000 a year. About £300,000 would allow the Waterway Trusts museums to offer free entry: at the moment a family ticket costs £15.

The museums have faced financial difficulties before: in 2002/3 there was a deficit of £85,000 and a number of curatorial staff, including the museums' director and deputy director, were made redundant. This raised question marks about the commitment of British Waterways to the long-term future of what were once its collections. But Hanbury said British Waterways' contribution to the museums had increased since the formation of the trust in 1999, and it had given an extra £90,000 this year. 'British Waterways is very generous,' he said. 'Our argument is that this collection, and the development of the waterways, was central to the development of this country and the government ought to recognise that.'

Sam Mullins, the director of the Association of Independent Museums which campaigns on behalf of charitable museums, said this shows that nationally-designated collections are still not safe, despite the increase in central government funding to regional museums. 'It highlights the fact that there are significant collections up and down the country that receive inadequate funding despite the fact they are nationally important. The Designation Challenge Fund has disappeared, which was intended to provide a safeguard for
non-national museums with national collections.'

The difficulty for the Waterways Trust is convincing the department for culture that it is more deserving of funds than other large independent museums. But the department has, on rare occasions, favoured individual museums: in 2001 the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield was awarded a grant of £1.3m a year, and the Design Museum in London was awarded £200,000 a year.

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