Imperial War Museum London

IWM Friends closer to agreement with museum

Jonathan Knott, 23.08.2017
Head of Friends rejects report of acrimonious dispute
The head of the Friends of Imperial War Museums (IWM) charity is hopeful of reaching an agreement with the museum over how it can be brought in-house.

IWM has proposed merging the Friends with the museum, but the plan did not achieve the two-thirds majority needed for approval at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the Friends in March.

The ensuing negotiations led to Diane Lees, the director-general of IWM, writing to the management council of the Friends in May saying that the existing benefits of the group would be withdrawn, because the museum was launching an in-house membership scheme.

Currently there are about 5,500 Friends, who pay a subscription and receive benefits including free access to exhibitions. In the last financial year the group gave about £60,000 to IWM. The group includes almost 700 life members, who have paid about £500.

report in the Times last week said that following the letter from Lees, the Friends had warned that they were not obliged to transfer their funds to the museum if the group was wound down. But according to Claire Owen, the head of membership at IWM, who is one of two staff based at the museum but employed by the Friends, the article is misleading. “We haven’t had any discussion around that at all,” she said.

Owen said that a potential way forward had now been agreed and that correspondence would be sent to the Friends detailing plans for how existing members will be catered for within an in-house membership scheme.

“Correspondence will be going out imminently that will detail specifically how all of our members, including life members, will be honoured going forward,” said Owen. “It is a positive outcome and we are very happy with the negotiations we have had with the museum.”

The correspondence will also announce David Burden, who was previously on the Friends’ management council, as the new chairman of the group. The previous chairman stood down earlier this month, but Owen said that this was a planned move unrelated to the negotiations.

She believed that the impression of a dispute had arisen because of slow communication from the museum.

“We have been pushing to find out exactly how members would be honoured much sooner. We had hoped to find out months ago and ideally soon after the EGM,” said Owen. “But because there has been this delay, which has caused a great deal of uncertainty among our members, it has made things a bit more difficult.”

The museum will propose that current Friends can continue to enjoy their benefits until their membership expires. They will then be encouraged to join the museum’s in-house scheme.

Winding down the Friends group would require the approval of two thirds of its members, but the planned changes to benefits offered by the museum do not need to be approved by a vote.

Update 23.08.2017

A spokesman for IWM said that a new membership scheme incorporating all of its branches would launch late this year and that the Friends group’s existing benefits would be safeguarded until August 2018.

“We very much value the long term investment and commitment made by the Friends and we intend to ensure that this continued support is reflected with the terms of our new membership scheme,” he said, adding that life members of the Friends would be incorporated into the new scheme as “honorary life members”.

“We remain in ongoing discussions with the chairman and the board of Friends of Imperial War Museums (FoIWM) in order to reach an agreement which will be both beneficial to IWM and FoIWM,” said the spokesman. “We also remain committed to working alongside FoIWM in order to ensure a smooth transition and hope to welcome current FoIWM members to our new membership.”