Council to close its third museum in eleven years

Volunteers at Nottingham Industrial Museum

Dave (left) and Conrad (right) are Nottingham Arkwright Society volunteers who help to maintain exhibits and work especially hard on Steam Days at Nottingham Industrial Museum.

Nottingham City Council is about to announce its decision to close the popular Nottingham Industrial Museum, which is located in Wollaton Park, next to Wollaton Hall, which has just been refurbished at a cost of £7m. Councillors want to save money from the running of the Industrial Museum — which it owns — so that they can pump money into the new Contemporary Nottingham gallery — which it does not own — and which is due to open in the second-half of 2009.

This will be the third museum which Nottingham City Council has closed in recent times: first, there was the Canal Museum, which closed in 1998, then the Costume Museum, which closed in 2003, now it’s the turn of Nottingham Industrial Museum to be closed. This will leave Nottingham with four sites: Nottingham Castle (including Brewhouse Yard), Wollaton Hall, Green’s Windmill in Sneinton and Newstead Abbey, famous for its Lord Byron links, and for which the Council has tried to find new owners in the past, but without success.

Children at Nottingham Industrial Museum

Two children, in the company of their grandfather, have the workings of the beam engine explained to them by volunteer Conrad.

Evidence already in the public domain suggests that the search for new owners for museums continues and a clue as to what might happen is buried in Appendix 8 to the Council's proposed budget for 2009/10, where there is a recommendation that the City Council looks at 'Alternative (e.g. Trust) Management arrangements for Sport & Leisure Services (which include museums)' and 'employ professional advice to enable the development of alternative management delivery models (i.e. Trust, Social Enterprise Company)'. In the meantime, they plan to increase museum fees and charges, including catering charges, to generate more income (Appendix 4).

When we contacted the Museums Libraries Archives Council (MLA), who have overall responsibility for museum accreditation and standards, they appeared to know nothing about the closure of Nottingham Industrial Museum. Later, an MLA spokesperson commented: 'The MLA is aware of the issues, and is talking with the council and giving professional advice. We believe that any changes to cultural services such as museum, archive services and libraries, should be accompanied with full engagement with local people. We recognise that councils have difficult budget decisions to juggle, and we are able to give strategic advice on how services can be developed around best practice principles within financial constraints.' Quite clearly, Nottingham City Council has failed to discuss the matter 'with local people'. The decision has been made behind closed doors.

Volunteer and model steam tractor

Will, an apprentice volunteer, who has been working at Nottingham Industrial Museum for the last two years, shows off a model steam tractor

I visited the Industrial Museum last Sunday, a cold, windy, overcast, February day, together with some 700 other folk. It was crowded and full of life, as grand-dads showed grandchildren their past and recalled names from Nottingham’s glory days as a mining and industrial city, and volunteers from the Nottingham Arkwright Society went about keeping the past alive for future generations to enjoy and cherish. The museum could close as soon as the end of March 2009.

I understand that one of Nottinghamshire's leading local history societies, the Thoroton Society, is about to send a letter of protest to leading city councillors who, in an effort to stave off the inevitable public fury their decision will cause, have already begun talks with Nottingham Civic Society to see if they will take over the running of the museum. If they do, they may get funding from the City Council to help pay for its upkeep and curatorial expertise, but this is only a possibility at this early stage in the discussions.

What is happening in Nottingham may well be happening in other parts of England as well. Please let us know about any other planned museum closures.

Robert Howard

27 February 2009

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