Attempts to reopen two historic mills in Lancashire have failed - Museums Association

Attempts to reopen two historic mills in Lancashire have failed

Talks between English Heritage and Lancashire County Council did not result in an agreement
Nicola Sullivan
The latest attempts to secure the future of two Lancashire mills, the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and the Queen Street Mill in Burnley, have failed.

English Heritage had been in talks with Lancashire County Council about the possibility of adding the two sites to its national portfolio but an agreement was not reached. English Heritage said it recognised the significance of the two mills, which are both Designated sites, but could not afford to run and maintain them.   

“After careful consideration we concluded that as a new charity undertaking a major conservation programme at the sites already in our care, we are simply not in a position to take on the costs of running and maintaining the mills,” the charity said in a press statement.  

Phil Barrett, the director of community services at Lancashire County Council, said:  “[English Heritage's] decision not to proceed with this is obviously not what we had hoped for. At the same time, English Heritage has made clear that it and its colleagues at Historic England recognise the great significance of the two mills, and has proposed that we meet with Historic England to see if there may be another sustainable way of keeping the buildings and their machinery safe and open to the public.”

Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund will also be approached as part of efforts to find a solution but further negotiations will not be able to take place until after the local government elections on 4 May.

Beryl Rostron, the chairwoman of the Friends of Helmshore Textile Museum, said: “It is heartbreaking. We were pinning our hopes on there being some agreement. There is nothing that can be done now until after the local elections on 4 May. We are in a limbo state again. 

“Local people are devastated because [the mill] is a major asset for small place like Helmshore,” she added.

The two mills are among five sites in Lancashire that closed in September after the approval of Lancashire County Council’s 2016-17 budget, which included savings of £64.2m. Fleetwood Maritime Museum, Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster and the Museum of Lancashire in Preston were also forced to shut their doors.  

The council called for alternative bodies to come forward to run the museums. This has been successful in the case of Fleetwood Maritime Museum, which will be taken over by the Fleetwood Museum Trust. The museum, which will be staffed by volunteers, will reopen on Friday and continue to be managed by the council until its transfer to the trust is completed in June.  

Ian Watson, the libraries, museums and registrars manager at Lancashire County Council, said: “The legal agreements to transfer the operation of the maritime museum from the county council to the Fleetwood Museums Trust are almost complete.

“It therefore makes good business sense to ensure the museum can attract visitors over Easter with the help of volunteers from the trust who we hope will take it on entirely in a few weeks' time.”  

Museums Journal understands that the Friends of the Judges’ Lodgings Museum is hoping to take over the running of the site in Lancaster and plans are underway for Museum of Lancashire in Preston to be taken over by military museums in the area.


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