Brian Gorski’s experience in the army has helped him navigate the world of museums

Profile: Brian Gorski

John Holt, Issue 118/10, 05.10.2018
Putting military skills to good use
Brian Gorski is the chairman of the Fusilier Museum in Bury, Greater Manchester, a trustee at the regimental museums at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, St John’s House Museum in Warwick and the Tower of London, and a member of the Association of Independent Museums council. He served with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for 30 years before a stint as a senior executive at US technology firm Hewlett Packard.

When did your interest in the regiment’s history start?

Part of my day-to-day life when I was a subaltern was to ensure the memorabilia, artefacts and records collected over the four amalgamated regiments’
300-year history was properly kept. Not many 19-year-olds have a detailed knowledge of preservation techniques and, having been a trustee for 16 years, I look back and think I could probably have done things better. But it could have been worse: one young soldier was appointed as keeper of the antelope to look after the regimental mascot, an Indian blackbuck that was kept at the Tower of London.
What challenges have you faced in museum life?

The first was finding new facilities. The Bury museum was originally in one room in an old barracks and there were plans to move into the drill hall, which would have been a disaster due to restrictions on letting the public in. It’s a problem for many military museums: for example, the Royal Signals Museum is in the middle of barracks in Blandford Forum in Dorset and I’m sure visitor figures would be higher if it was located in the town.

We finally found a place in the middle of Bury and secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Although the architect said it would cost £2.2m, it ended up being £6.4m, so we had to find the difference. More recently, the boilers went down over the winter, which cost us £16,500 to repair. My work has always been about running smooth operations and providing an environment in which a project can flourish.

Is your military experience useful in the museum world?

The leadership, team-building and strategy skills have been useful, and the people and commercial skills from Hewlett Packard have some relevance. For example, I helped put together a consortium to try to save the Museum of Lancashire in Preston from closure because it held two military collections. We put forward a business case, but the conditions for the future use of the building changed and we had to withdraw.

Do you miss army life?

I miss the operational side, but one of the benefits of the museum work is that I am still involved with the regiment and I get to see the people. I expect some of the younger recruits – who look like children to me – just think I’m an old giffer.