The Guildhall Museum in Rochester. Image: The Local People Photo Archive on Flickr. Licence: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Medway Council considers selling museum building

Jonathan Knott, 23.05.2018
Income would support renovations to functions venue and museum
Medway Council is considering selling part of Rochester’s Guildhall Museum in order to fund renovations to the town’s 18th century Corn Exchange, which is used for functions and meetings, and to update the rest of the museum.

Stuart Tranter, a Conservative councillor for the Rochester West ward, where the museum is located, emailed constituents about the proposals on 14 May. Tranter said that he had been discussing plans to sell the conservancy building, the smaller of two buildings that comprise the Guildhall Museum, with the Conservative-led council’s leader and deputy leader.

“The Corn Exchange, which dates back to the 1700s, is looking a bit ‘tired’ and unsurprisingly needs some significant maintenance for a building of its age,” Tranter said.

He added: “Despite good progress, it is still difficult for some people to physically access [the museum] and keeping displays up to date is a challenge”.

Tranter also wrote that the conservancy building “is often missed out by visitors and can be seen as little more than a repository for Victorian exhibits”.

“I believe that selling the conservancy building, which is a relatively recent acquisition, will give us a great opportunity to uplift the other buildings and make them more dynamic for the benefit of Rochester,” Tranter's email continued.

But Alex Paterson, a Labour councillor for Rochdale West, told Museums Journal that the proposals were “flawed”.

He disputed the idea that the conservancy building was a less well-used part of the museum, saying that it was the site of educational facilities as well as the only display on Charles Dickens on Rochester High Street. “Given the significance of Dickens as a figure in Medway’s history, I think that would be quite a substantial loss,” Paterson said.

According to Paterson, the proposal to sell the conservancy building was originally due to be announced at a council meeting last week, but this was later postponed for a month. The council did not comment on this matter.

“I’m not convinced we have an overall strategy for the high street. For what is essentially the tourism jewel in the crown of Medway, it seems a very piecemeal approach,’ Paterson said.

A spokeswoman for the Conservative group on Medway Council said: "We are considering the possibility of selling the conservancy building in Rochester, but no decision has been made."

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