Heritage centre closure puts future of Burton brewing collection in doubt - Museums Association

Heritage centre closure puts future of Burton brewing collection in doubt

Plans to maintain a local space to celebrate brewing heritage are unconfirmed
Closure
The National Brewery Centre is due to close on 31 October
The National Brewery Centre is due to close on 31 October

There are concerns that much of a nationally important brewing heritage collection in Burton upon Trent may be lost from public display despite official assurances that it will stay in the town.

Burton’s National Brewery Centre (NBC) holds a collection of half a million brewing-related objects including vehicles, equipment and memorabilia, of which about 5,000 are currently on display. But the centre is due to close on 31 October to enable Molson Coors Beverage Company to move its headquarters to the site.

Molson Coors owns the building and most of the collection, which also includes extensive archive materials. The collection is cared for by the National Brewery Heritage Trust.

Plans to relocate the collection elsewhere in the town are still under discussion and partly dependent on an unconfirmed funding bid.

A statement from the Conservative-led East Staffordshire Borough Council earlier this month said: “Molson Coors has committed to working with the council and the National Brewing Heritage Trust to ensure that the collection is protected during this interim period before its new home is established.”

“At this time, the council would like to make a public commitment to retaining all of the items, artefacts and archives from the NBC to ensure they are kept within the town.”

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The council also said that it will work with a group of local historians to explore how the objects could be incorporated into plans for a proposed new Burton Heritage Centre. This includes “the possibility to expand the proposed heritage centre into the important and listed larger Bass House building on High Street”.

The authority has been awarded funding through the government’s Towns Fund for a £1.1m planned heritage centre, but plans to refurbish Bass House are dependent on using £4.3m from a current £20m application from the Levelling Up Fund.

At a council meeting last night, East Staffordshire approved a motion from its leader George Allen to commit to “working with the trustees of NBC and Molson Coors to maintain a space to celebrate Burton’s brewing heritage”.

But Richard Grosvenor, an independent councillor, told Museums Journal: “A ‘space’ to me is completely insulting to the [town’s] brewing heritage…people don't want a space. They want a proper National Brewing Centre, which is what they've got currently.”

He said that plans to close the centre represented “the destruction of Burton’s brewing heritage”.

A petition signed by more than 7,700 people opposes the planned closure, saying: “We demand Molson Coors abandon the proposal and work to provide a long term viable future for the museum.” 

The campaign also calls upon “East Staffordshire Borough Council and our MP to publicly condemn the closure plan and campaign for it to remain open”.

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The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) is also calling for Molson Coors to scrap the closure plans. Camra’s national director for real ale, cider and perry campaigns, Gillian Hough, said: “The planned closure of the National Brewery Centre in October will be a devastating loss not only to Burton upon Trent but also to the nation’s brewing history. 

“While we can see the benefit of relocating the archives to a site where they can be properly stored and maintained, a limited display of materials in a new location is not an adequate replacement for the only museum in the UK focused solely on our brewing heritage. 

“Camra is urging Molson Coors to reverse their decision, invest in the centre in its current location and ensure its collections are open and accessible to the public.”

East Staffordshire leader George Allen said: “The National Brewery Centre’s archives and artefacts will not be lost. The council will now begin working with the trustees of the National Brewery Centre (who are supportive) and Molson Coors to create a fine, larger and modern museum space befitting of a genuinely National Brewery Centre. This will celebrate brewery and brews across the country to make it a truly national place.

"This will involve working with breweries up and down the country. It will enhance Burton upon Trent as a tourist destination for brewing and our local heritage. Cllr Grosvenor is twisting the word “space” and being semantical. But we fully recognise and empathise with the outcry from residents far and wide. We too are affected by the situation.”

In a recent statement, Harry White, chairman of the National Brewery Heritage Trust, said: “We have received assurances from Molson Coors… of their commitment to work closely with the National Brewery Heritage Trust and East Staffordshire Borough Council to protect the beer and pub industry's important archives and artefacts, and keep them in Burton.”

Representatives for Molson Coors did not respond to queries from Museums Journal. But in a statement provided to Staffordshire Live, the company’s managing director for Western Europe, Phil Whitehead, said: "We’re absolutely committed to preserving and protecting the vitally important heritage that is currently housed at the brewery centre.”

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He said that the company was working with local stakeholders to find a new home for the collection.

“We see great potential for the proposed heritage centre at Town House and its possible expansion into Bass House and the surrounding outdoor space,” he added, saying that the company would “protect the collection” in the meantime.

Kate Kniveton, the Conservative MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, said in a recent statement that amid Molson Coors’ plans, “it is vitally important that full consideration is given to exhibits and artefacts which are currently displayed”.

Kniveton intends to present a petition to parliament, calling on the government to support Burton’s heritage and ensure that the collection is kept within the town.

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