Shrewsbury faces the closure of its museum until 2009 - Museums Association

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Shrewsbury faces the closure of its museum until 2009

Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, housed at Rowley’s House, is to close at the end of this year, and its …
Patrick Steel
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Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, housed at Rowley's House, is to close at the end of this year, and its collections will be moved into storage. The future of the museums service is also in doubt.

Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council is planning to redevelop the town's theatre as a new museum and tourist information centre, but the building won't be ready until at least 2009. Expressions of interest have been invited from developers for Rowley's House, and a decision is likely to be made this month.

Mary White, the council's museums manager, said there were hopes that a new buyer might agree to let the museum service occupy Rowley's House until the new home for the museum was ready. However, the funding has not yet been secured for the redevelopment work, she said. And 'if the proposed redevelopment does not come off, then there is a great deal of local concern as to what will happen in the future'.

The council will be submitting a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in May 2007, and has put aside match funding for this purpose. There is a 'notional figure of £12m for the whole development', White said, with the HLF bid for 'around the £5m mark'.

She described a 'degree of demoralisation' among staff at the museum 'anxious as to what will happen'. The council has said it will maintain the museum's budget throughout the redevelopment, but over the past four years three full-time posts have been made redundant and there have been a series of budget cuts.

Although the 170,000 items, including excavations from the Roman city at Wroxeter, will have to be put into storage, White is planning a programme for outreach and off-site exhibition work during the redevelopment.

Labour (opposition) councillor Mansel Williams described the council's plans as 'selling the family silver'. He said: 'Rowley's House is probably the centrepiece of our wonderful Tudor buildings. It was gifted to the town in the 1930s. I don't think, morally, the council has a right to sell it.'

Williams called for a local referendum on the sale - an idea that was rejected by the council. Margaret Owen, a local designer working for the museum, has raised a petition to oppose the sale and already has more than 12,500 signatures.

Jon Finch, the chief executive of Museums, Libraries and Archives West Midlands, said he had been looking at the proposals. 'There are many strengths in the feasibility study, but there are concerns about the nature of the funding and where that is going to come from,' he said.

'We would like to see a commitment from the council that some sort of museum service will be maintained. We don't want to see no access for the next two or three years.' The museum still has to apply for accreditation, he added, and this would be postponed until the new venue is open.

Meanwhile, Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Museum, which houses 6,000 objects including 400 items donated by William Burrell, is facing closure as Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council has announced it needs to make £200,000 of savings in its next budget. A decision will be made by 21 December. 'It is our 140th anniversary next year, and they are celebrating by dispersing the collection,' said Chris Green, the museum's curator.

Patrick Steel

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