Uncertainty over funding for Northampton museum expansion

Nicola Sullivan, 28.07.2015
 £7m needed to complete second phase of redevelopment project
Doubts have been raised over Northampton Borough Council’s capacity to generate the funds required to complete its expansion of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.

The extension and refurbishment project has been budgeted at almost £12m and the council has ring fenced funding of £6.8m for this from the £8m-plus it made from Sekhemka, the ancient Egyptian statue it sold last year for £15.8m. The remaining share went to Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum.

However, it is uncertain how the council will make up the shortfall needed to complete the project, which will double the museum's exhibition space and create new galleries, teaching facilities and commercial space
 
The redevelopment, which in 2014 was costed at around £14m, will start in 2017 and be completed by 2018. A second phase of improvement works costing around £7m are planned between 2019 and 2021.

Since its sale of the statue to an undisclosed overseas buyer, the council has been stripped of its Accreditation by Arts Council England (ACE), missed out on £240,000 of Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money and barred from Museums Association (MA) membership for five years.
 
Despite this councillor Mary Markham, the leader of Northampton Borough Council, said she was confident that the rest of the money for the redevelopment would be secured.

She told BBC Radio Northampton last week that a number of funding bodies, including the HLF were willing to discuss supporting the project once it had been partly completed.
 
But a spokeswoman from the HLF told Museums Journal it had not had any contact with the council since December and that while it recognised the potential of the project to contribute to Northampton’s cultural quarter and “widen access” and “renew audiences” it “strongly advised” the council not to make a bid for funding.
 
“The stumbling block for us is Accreditation,” she said. “It is not a formal requirement under our open grant programme but we do generally expect museums who are making those sorts of substantial bids to us to have Accreditation status.”

By way of clarification, Northampton Borough Council issued the following statement on behalf of Markham: “We will look at a second phase of improvement works from 2019 to 2021 and we would look to secure money from other sources (including approaching the Heritage Lottery Fund) to fund this. This second phase is expected to cost around £7 million.”

The HLF was also one of 10 sector bodies to issue a joint statement to protect collections at risk.

Speaking on BBC Radio Northampton last week Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said:  “I think there has been a loss of sector trust in the Northampton museum service but also a loss of public trust in the museum service.

"Several people have come forward saying they wouldn’t consider donating items from their own personal collections to the museum but in terms of future funding the service has also cut itself off from that.”

She added: “They have actually ended up with a scaled down project, which will probably be about half the size they originally intended."

Markham said the decision to sell Sekhemka was not reached lightly.

“Our museum was at risk of going into decline because we didn’t have enough space to display the items that were relevant to Northampton our culture and our heritage – Sekhemka didn’t fit in that,” she said.

The export ban the government placed on Sekhemka will expire at midnight tonight and will only be extended if a UK buyer with serious intentions to purchase the statue comes forward. A spokeswoman from ACE said she couldn't confirm whether there is any interest from buyers.  

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