At-Bristol closes Wildwalk and IMAX in major financial rethink - Museums Association

At-Bristol closes Wildwalk and IMAX in major financial rethink

The At-Bristol Science Centre is to close its Wildwalk attraction and IMAX Theatre next month as part of a restructuring …
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Simon Stephens
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The At-Bristol Science Centre is to close its Wildwalk attraction and IMAX Theatre next month as part of a restructuring that will see more than a quarter of its 160 staff lose their jobs.

The restructure will involve about 45 job losses and it is hoped it will reduce the centre's annual £1.5m operating deficit (before fundraising) to £500,000. A statement from At-Bristol said many of the short-term funding and grants it has depended on since opening in 2000 are now coming to an end or are significantly reduced.

'The aim of this proposal is to make At-Bristol financially sustainable by producing a business model that is not overly dependent on fundraising,' Goéry Delacôte, the chief executive officer of At-Bristol, told Museums Journal. 'Both Wildwalk and the IMAX have proved expensive to operate and less popular [than Explore and the planetarium], and their closing will remove a significant element of the deficit.'

At-Bristol, which cost £91m to develop, will now focus on providing interactive exhibitions and programmes in Explore and the planetarium. It will also continue its education work through the Science Learning Centre.

Other English science centres are facing similar issues to At-Bristol. Many are Millennium Commission-funded projects that have opened over the past ten years, but are now in debt and struggling to fund costly new exhibitions. One of the main problems is the lack of government funding and those working in the sector say many venues are under severe financial pressure.

'The position of the science centres is a difficult one; from the biggest to the smallest, everyone has issues to do with cashflow and keeping an attraction exciting and fresh,' said Nick Winterbotham, the chief executive of Birmingham's Thinktank science centre and museum. 'To be honest, most of us are living hand to mouth.'

Ecsite-UK, which represents more than 40 UK science centres and museums, has been calling on the government to provide £10m a year to support English science centres, but there has been no indication this will happen. The situation is better in Scotland and Wales, where the devolved governments provide some support.

Peter Trevitt, the chief executive of Techniquest in Cardiff, said a model similar to the ones used in Scotland and Wales would help English science centres.

'An arrangement that is tailored to each area, but where there is some predictable income from the government would be desirable and helpful,' said Trevitt.

Simon Stephens

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