Museums assess flood damage - Museums Association

Museums assess flood damage

Jorvik Viking Centre could be closed for a year
Jonathan Knott
Several museums in the north of England are assessing the damage caused by recent floods, with those in tourist regions concerned to minimise any lasting impact on visitor numbers.

Jorvik Viking Centre in York, located in a basement below a shopping centre, was submerged beneath around half a metre of water after flooding over the Christmas period.

The bulk of the water was pumped out at the end of December and power returned two days ago, Sarah Maltby, the director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust (YAT), told Museums Journal. The trust is in the process of discussions to assess the damage and does not yet know what extent of repairs will be required. “If a full refit is needed, then we could be looking at a full year of closure,” said Maltby.

The collections were evacuated from the attraction and are undamaged. Maltby said that in the long term objects would continue to be stored at the site. “I think we can say that quite categorically,” she said. “One of Jorvik’s selling points is the fact that we have built it on the site where we found everything and that is incredibly important to us. We had disaster plans and they worked to the letter.”

The organisation is now working on a range of possible contingency plans. “We have the collection and staff to work with. We are working on ideas like pop-up temporary Jorviks, going into schools and doing outreach by Skype,” said Maltby.

YAT also runs four smaller museums in the city but Maltby said it was hard to predict the impact on visitor numbers for these and York generally. “Jorvik is one of the most popular attractions in York but there is still enough else going on to attract people, I would hope,” she said.

York Art Gallery, York Castle, and Yorkshire Museum have all remained open to the public, although the Raindale Mill area of York Castle was flooded.

Two museums in Leeds experienced serious flooding. John Roles, the head of Leeds Museums and Galleries, said that Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills and Thwaite Mills are likely to remain closed for the rest of the month, forcing school visits and weddings to be cancelled. At Armley, water levels rose to about two and a half metres, about three times the height of the previous record level from 1866.

“Teams of staff, volunteers and other council staff and contractors have been working to clear both sites and buildings of mud and silt so we can assess any damage to buildings or collections,” said Roles.

Several museums affected by floods in early December after Storm Desmond have escaped further mishap. Three museums in Lancaster closed, but of these, only the Lancaster Maritime Museum has yet to reopen. Museums in Cumbria are also recovering after damage and disruption due to flooding.

The National Trust-owned Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, which was flooded, is still planning to open in March. The venue’s visitor experience manager Zoe Gilbert said that repairs would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle closed for two days because of disruptions to the local infrastructure. Adrian Mason, the head of operations and marketing, anticipated a possible drop in the number of tourists visiting in spring. “People who may have been thinking of coming to Carlisle or Cumbria as a tourist destination may now not be doing so. In the Lake District, some holiday cottages have been flooded and so people have cancelled holidays. That then knocks on to ancillary recreational activities,” he said.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal reopened within a few days of flooding, but parts of the building remain closed, said Gordon Watson, the chief executive of Lakeland Arts. He added that “a relatively short list of items will need conservation.”

Watson said that there had been an “immediate decline” in visitor numbers following the flooding, but was hopeful that tourists would not be put off visiting the region later in the year.

“The concern is that people might feel that places won’t be open, but the reality is that they will be, well before the visitor season starts,” he said. “There will be a lot of work in the next few months to make the point that Cumbria is very much open for business.”

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