A Nigerian model of a Royal Navy boat that patrolled west African waters

BECM collection given to Bristol City Council

Rebecca Atkinson, 30.03.2012
Collection may be put back on display
The collection of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (BECM) is to be given to Bristol City Council and could be put on display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and M Shed.

As previously reported in Museums Journal, BECM has made losses of more than £870,000 since 2006 and earlier this year was forced to abandon plans to relocate to London.

A statement released by the trustees of the museum yesterday confirmed that “major changes in economic circumstances [mean] the proposed move is no longer a viable option and will not be progressed”.

The former site of the museum, Brunel's Old Station building, will be purchased by the council.

Five members of staff working on venue hire and building maintenance will have their employee contracts transferred to Bristol City Council, while an administration role will be made redundant this summer.

John Mott, who was appointed as an interim chief executive last year, completed his contract last October.

The museum’s 50,000-strong collection will now be transferred to Bristol City Council by the end of the summer.

Simon Cook, Bristol City Council's cabinet member for culture, said the collections would be made available for study as part of Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives Service’s exhibition and educational programmes.

“We would anticipate that the collections will eventually be displayed in the city museum," he added.

Julie Finch, head of Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives Service, said the collection may be used in a number of ways, including in world cultures display as part of new displays at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

It may also be used in M Shed’s transatlantic slavery gateway exhibition and as part of a wider inter-cultural approach to audiences.

A review of the BECM’s collection is still underway by Bristol City Council and will continue as part of the transfer. BECM closed in 2008 and accounts filed last November showed large losses, including £222,000 from “the sale of artefacts and other unauthorised transactions”.

Gareth Griffiths was dismissed as director of the museum in February 2011. A subsequent police investigation into the unauthorised disposal of objects was dropped by Avon and Somerset police last month.

Griffiths has previously released statement through his solicitors maintaining that any objects were disposed of with the knowledge and agreement of the trustees.


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31.03.2012, 00:05
Great to hear this sorry saga is finally possibly perhaps coming to an end and that it might even be a happy one too. I visited BECM before its premature demise and it was wonderful to see this international story of empire and commonweath being told in a city in the west of England that has so many links to its subject matter.

It was very depressing, and all too familiar, to hear that the museum was going to close and move to London for "financial reasons". What had been a star attraction for locals and visitors in Bristol would have been barely noticed in London! The reasons for moving also appeared to be the very negation of the ideals of the museum.

Let's hope Bristol City Museums make good use of the collection. If for some bizarre reason they are short of ideas, then a trip to Liverpool to see the World Museum and the ISM will soon get the creative juices flowing.