London’s Gunnersbury Park, home to a museum with more than 40,000 objects, is appealing for donations to ensure its survival after its cafe was gutted by a fire last week. It expects to lose £70,000 a year from the closure of the cafe in addition to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Three horse-drawn carriages and two historic bicycles in a gallery next to the cafe were saved from the blaze.
The fire started in the early hours of 29 May, setting most of the cafe’s roof alight and causing major damage. London Fire Brigade sent eight engines and about 60 firefighters to tackle the outbreak, bringing it under control at about 4:30am.
A report on the museum’s website said that London Fire Brigade had played an “instrumental part” in saving the objects – all from the 19th century – and removing them from the building.
“We quickly sought advice from conservators, and the decision was made to allow the carriages to air dry overnight before being moved to storage,” the museum said.
Over the weekend, museum staff worked with several partners to secure the objects and transport them off site using a “tent-like structure”. The objects are now being held at an external safe storage site.
“We are now working with specialist conservators to assess the damage that has occurred and work[ing] to stabilise and treat the carriages as quickly as possible,” the museum said.
The park was closed following the fire and reopened on 1 June.
At the time of the fire, Gunnersbury Park’s museum, cafe and historic kitchens were already closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.
A spokesperson said that the cafe would not open for at least 18 months. The venue was run by an external operator which passed on 10% of every purchase towards running the Gunnersbury estate.
The museum is now appealing for donations from the public. The appeal states: “Gunnersbury CIC, a small non-for-profit responsible for the management of Gunnersbury Park and Museum, was already badly hit by Covid-19, which forced us to close the museum and cancel outdoor events, weddings, and our public programmes. “Although we have furloughed the majority of the staff to reduce costs, the loss of the entire summer events season means that we have lost 40% of our entire yearly income over the space of a few weeks. “Despite this we’ve worked incredibly hard to keep the park open for the community during lockdown. We’ve seen thousands more people using the park during this time and it’s been heartening to hear how the park has been a lifeline and a sanctuary to so many. “Gunnersbury is now facing the double whammy of the lost income from both Covid-19 and the recent fire to the cafe. To be blunt, we are forecasting a funding gap of £250,000 this year and – unless the outlook changes – the closure of the organisation. We have never needed your support more." Museums Journal understands that police are investigating the possibility of arson. Ealing and Hounslow councils say “the cause of the fire is under investigation”.