A number of independent museums are warning that they may not be able to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, in spite of emergency support announced by the government.The Creswell Heritage Trust and the National Videogame Museum are among those to have launched appeals this week to avoid insolvency.
Creswell Heritage Trust, which runs Creswell Crags museum and open-air prehistoric site in Nottinghamshire, has had all of its council funding cut in recent years.
The site's earning potential is also hampered because it is forced to close during the shooting season, but it had been successfully developing its earned income streams before the health crisis wiped out its visitor revenue this month.
However, because it did not receive a contingency fund from the council when it lost its regular funding, the trust only has enough reserves to cover staff salaries until the end of April.
The trust’s executive director Paul Baker said that without any money in the bank, the site would be legally unable to ask staff to come back to work after the shutdown as it would be trading insolvently.
“One of the problems is we were never given a contingency fund,” said Baker. “We are being asked to adapt to a new reality without the financial capability to be bold. In the three years since we started to lose our council funding, we’ve had fantastic visitor numbers – it seemed like everything we touched turned to gold. But without a contingency fund you can’t afford for one thing to go wrong.
"This is our first year of complete and utter independence so it couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
He warned that many recently established trusts were likely to be facing a similar predicament.
Baker said that Creswell’s precarious financial position makes it almost impossible to access finance from the £330bn emergency loans package announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak last week. The board of trustees would have to act as guarantors for any loans received – a risk that Baker says would be out of the question.
He said the museum would apply for government support, which covers 80% of PAYE employees' salaries, for all but four of its 36 staff, but that this could exacerbate some of the problems it is facing. Furloughed staff are prohibited from carrying out any work, meaning the trust will lose crucial capacity for activities like fundraising or programming during the shutdown period that could help it get back on its feet after the pandemic.
Baker said the trust had been buoyed by the messages of support it had received from the museum sector and was hopeful that it could benefit from the £160m emergency funding package unveiled by Arts Council England this week.
A JustGiving fundraising appeal has also been launched, although a statement on the trust’s website acknowledged that “these are difficult times for many people in the community, and the team recognise that people will rightly have greater priorities than supporting Creswell Crags”.
The National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, which opened to the public in 2018, says it is under threat of permanent closure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
In an email appeal sent to its supporters, the museum’s CEO Rick Gibson said: “Despite 40,000 visitors in 2019, we have no safety net of funding to ensure our new charity outlasts a prolonged shutdown. The UK is in danger of losing the only museum dedicated to videogames.
“Our forthcoming exhibitions, our programmes to train children in the most disadvantaged communities and our huge collection of videogames heritage objects could be closed for good.
“We’re asking for your support so the museum can outlast this global pandemic and continue its important cultural and educational work.”
The museum has also launched a JustGiving campaign to help it through the crisis.