|Lancaster Market Square. Photo: John Freeman|
(Updated 9th July 2016): A major new report with recommendations on the future of Lancaster City Council’s museums has just been published (PDF link), making recommendations on future museum provision, including proposals to close the Maritime and Cottage Museums - and moving the Visitor Information Centre into the City Museum.
Despite a need to save on costs in part driving the report for the Council, it also suggests building an all-new facility on Morecambe Seafront.
Currently, Lancaster City Council’s museum collections reside in the City Museum located in the Old Town Hall in the Market Square, the Cottage Museum adjacent to the Castle, the Maritime Museum in the Port of Lancaster Custom House and adjacent Warehouse on St George’s Quay, and an out-of-District store in Preston. The three museums are managed by Lancashire County Council under an agreement with the City although the buildings and the objects (with the sole exception of those of the King’s Own Regimental Museum which occupies space within the City Museum) remain the property of the City Council.
During the financial year 2015-2016 Lancashire County Council reports the The City Museum had 46,620 visitors (down from 50,316 in 2014/15 -PDF link), the Cottage Museum 4,800 (up from 4,398 in 2014/15) and the Maritime Museum 8,038 (but has been closed since October 2015).
(Less publicity for the museums offering and activities may, in part, be a reason behind these visitors numbers. Lancaster Castle and the Judges' Lodgings have also seen reductions year on year. Nationally, as council budgets have been cut, while visitor numbers for museums and galleries have risen steadily in recent years, reaching over 50,840,545 in 2014/15, government figures indicate they declined in 2015/16 to 47,621, 523. In May 2016 there were a total of 3.6 million visits to the DCMS sponsored museums and galleries, 17.2 per cent lower in May 2016 compared to May 2015 (a decrease of 747,790 visits).).
The report on the future for the Council-owned local museums, compiled by locally-based museum consultant Robert Aitken and London-based Prince and Pearce Ltd, who the Council previously Council consulted back in 2012, presents ideas for a complete redesign of the city council’s museums, but is unlikely to be popular with locals already dismayed by the impending closure of the Judges' Lodgings Museum, which is run by Lancashire County Council.
It comes as councils across the country are facing cuts in services and are looking at ways to save money - and the museums are just one service in the firing line, along with libraries at County level.
Their vision for the future includes a radical revamp of the City Museum as the central hub of a new and reinvigorated museums service that can provide an enhanced cultural offer and much improved public access.
The report that cost £9500 from Prince + Pearce, which had a £6.5 million turnover last year and has previously consulted on the future of the Royal Yacht Britannia and the National Army Museum, suggests the museum could potentially act as a gateway to the city and the wider district and could include the Lancaster Visitor Information Centre (currently in The Storey), retail and catering alongside frequently refreshed collections and exhibitions.
Another recommendation the report makes is the longer term development of a new multi-use facility at Morecambe Seafront with a museums and cultural dimension. This would bring together the interests of many partners around culture, heritage, ecology, wildlife and outdoor pursuits.
The report also deals with the future of the city council’s two other museums – the Maritime and Cottage, recommending they should be closed as maintaining them would be costly and risk the viability of the museum service as a whole.
Despite this grim proposal, the report does suggest the Customs House part of the Maritime Museum, could simply be ‘mothballed’, in case the building is needed in connection with the interpretation of the Roman finds found recently in Quay Meadow.
A large proportion of the collections within the Maritime Museum relate to Morecambe and the Bay area and the reports suggests there may also be opportunities for temporary exhibitions in venues such as the Platform.
When not on display, the report recommends that new improved storage facilities are needed for collections from all the museums.
“All local authorities are faced with having to reduce expenditure and make savings whilst also striving to ensure that services remain relevant and fit for purpose," says Robert Aitken, one of the authors of the report.
“These challenging circumstances need to be embraced and they provide a golden opportunity for the city council to re-invent its museums and bring them into the 21st century."
“As someone who lives locally, I’m passionate about the future of our culture heritage and how it can inspire future generations," he says. “There is much work to do on many of the options we have presented, but with a bold vision the district will be able to safeguard and display its cultural assets for many generations to come.”
Cabinet members will consider the report when they next meet on Tuesday 28th June 2016. No decisions will be taken in respect of which recommendations to pursue, but they will be asked to authorise that further work takes place to test the options.
Aitken, Prince + Pearce (AP+P) were asked to review their earlier recommendations set out in an options appraisal for Lancaster City Museum prepared in 2012, and to address the new brief by producing further options for the District museums service. This includes the City Museum, Maritime Museum and the Cottage Museum.
The Judges’ Lodgings, owned by Lancashire County Council, and Lancaster Castle, owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, were not included in the review.
Among other recommendations, the report from Aitken, Prince and Pearce suggests:
- The City Museum could potentially act as a gateway to the city and the wider district and could include the Visitor Information Centre, retail and catering alongside frequently refreshed collections and exhibitions
- In the longer term the development of a new multi-use facility at Morecambe Seafront, with a museums and cultural dimension, should be looked into. This would bring together the interests of many partners around culture, heritage, ecology, wildlife and outdoor pursuits
- The Maritime and Cottage museums should be closed as maintaining them would be costly and risk the viability of the museum service as a whole. The Customs House part of the Maritime Museum, however, could be ‘mothballed’ in case the building is needed in connection with the interpretation of the Roman finds found recently in Quay Meadow
- New improved storage facilities are needed so collections from all the museums are consolidated and conserved in a new store
• Lancashire County Council: figures for visits to attractions in Lancashire, 2014/15 (PDF)
• The Museums Asscociation has details of national visitor numbers to museums for comparison here and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport posts details of visitor numbers to DCMS sponsored museums and galleries here
• Association of Leading Visitor Attractions - Visitor Number Data 2015