Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Lancaster's Museums "Stuck in the Past", says Councillor Clifford, as future discussed

Darren Clifford

City Councillor Darren Clifford, Cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, culture and tourism says Lancaster museum offering is "stuck in the past" and in need of major overhaul if they are to maintain their "significance".

Cabinet members met to discuss a report from museum consultants Aitken, Prince and Pearce on Tuesday (28th June 2016), which include a radical revamp of the City Museum as the central hub of a new and revitalised museums service - and the closure of the Cottage and Maritime Museum, along with a proposal for a new museum facility in Morecambe.

No decisions were taken on the report’s recommendations (reported here), but Cabinet members agreed to commission a complete redesign of the museums service with the emphasis on providing an enhanced cultural offer and much improved public access.

A more detailed review of longer term management options will also be undertaken, along with further feasibility work on each of the proposed elements in the report.

Councillor Roger Mace

Speaking at the meeting, City Councillor Roger Mace, Chair of the Friends of the Friends of Lancaster City Museum called for some joined up thinking on the future of Lancaster's museums when he addressed the City's Cabinet meeting before its decision to approve the recommendations set out in its agenda.

Councillor Mace emphasised that FOLCM's broad interest is to see coordination of all the museums in the District. He noted the possible move of Lancaster's Visitor Information Centre to be part of the reinvigorated museums service that Cabinet proposes - but reminded Cabinet of the present importance of the Visitor Information Centre in giving financial support to the viability of the Storey Institute, and of the importance of the present ground floor space in the City Museum Building as flexible space and as space for the mounting of the temporary exhibitions which are so successful in attracting local visitors to make repeat visits to the museum.

A recommendation included in Roger Mace's address "that a Museums Cabinet Liaison Group be formed" was accepted by Councillor Clifford, and approved in a later agenda item at the cabinet meeting.

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 theKing’s Own Regimental Museum which occupies space within the City Museum) remain the property of the City Council.

The Council does not run the Judges' Lodgings, due to close in September, and Lancaster Castle - which is being developed as a major heritage attraction - is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and, as we noted in out news story, their role in Lancaster's museum offering was not considered in the Aitken, Prince and Pearce report, which cost £9500.

“Museums can no longer be ‘cabinets of curiosities’ - they need to be interactive, dynamic and educational, centred around the visitor experience and powered by a commercial engine," commented Councillor Clifford after the meeting.

During the financial year 2015-2016 Lancashire County Council reports the The City Museum had 46,620 visitors, the Cottage Museum 4800 and the Maritime Museum 8,038 (but has been closed since October 2015).

Lancaster Market Square and Museum. Photo: John Freeman

“Unfortunately Lancaster’s museums are, quite literally, stuck in the past, and would require a massive investment to bring them up to date with modern expectations.

“Unless we look at making fundamental changes and rethinking how we run them, they will spiral into insignificance.

“Across the country we’ve seen a number of museums put under threat due to the reductions the Government is making in local government funding.

“While finance is certainly a factor, the key driver for us is make sure we have a museums service that will really excite future generations and encourage them to connect with our heritage.”

Also at the meeting was Major Danny Parsonage, a Trustee of The Kings Own, who had attended a recent FOLCM Committee meeting and presented a number of points additional to those presented by Roger Mace.

"FOLCM is aware that the contents of the Kings Own Museum is owned by a Registered Charity with appointed Trustees and that the Kings Own moved items from Bowerham Barracks in the 1920s at the invitation of the City to be in the same building as the City Museum," he said on the subject of The Kings Own. "In view of this long established co-location of the two museums, FOLCM considers the display of the collections owned by the Trustees of the Kings Own Museum to be an integral part of the offerings within the City Museum and (subject to the opportunities for display of the collection at any proposed new location within Lancaster being sustainably funded and seen as 'cost effective' and advantageous to that Museum by its Trustees), FOLCM is opposed to any plan that separates these displays."

He noted the potentially unaffordable costs of proposals for repairs and maintenance and refreshing of the displays in the City Museum and added:

"In the event of major works affecting the interior of the City Museum, and leading to temporary full closure, we ask that alternative venues for displays and for community engagement be made available to cover the full period of closure. This will keep disruption of the service to the local public and inconvenience to visitors to a minimum."

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

You can read the Report online here. There are no costings in the report in terms of how much it would cost to close the two museums, or how much it would cost to build an all-new facility in Morecambe


John Freeman said...

I still don't understand how in one breath the report emphasises a need for change, the need to save money - and then at the same time as it's suggested buildings are closed and sold off/ rented out, it also proposes building an entirely new facility. Where will the money for that come from? This report cost £9500, but there are no costings, no data on money spent on promoting any of the current museums and whether or not reductions in spending tally with a decline in visitor numbers. And as Roger Mace appears to have been trying to point out at the meeting, why is the City Council not working with the County and the Duchy of Lancaster on a more joined up approach to museum provision? Running of buildings has swapped between County and City before, so couldn't the City take over the Judges' Lodgings and use that rather than seeing it closed and presumably sold off in September if its supporters can't run it?

AntiStupid 124 said...

Why not actually read the report? It will analyse the costs and benefits of a number of options. However, before the city can take on board any particular 3rd party interests it has to develop a financial strategy to put its own house in order first.

John Freeman said...

I have, AntiStupid. My interpretation of it is different to yours. Live with it.