Report on the future of the Museum published

Consultant’s report published

The consultant’s report on the future of the Cromwell Museum was published by Cambridgeshire County Council on 25th April. The full text of the report and the Friend’s response can be seen at  http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20011/archives_archaeology_and_museums/24/cromwell_museum

The report has established that despite the significance of the Museum to the local economy, the cultural life of the area and beyond, and its wider educational value, no interest was received from other local authorities to take on full or partial responsibility for it. As it stands the County Council’s funding ends on 31st March 2016.

The key option identified by the report is that an independent trust be created to run the Museum in its current building. A second option of re-locating to another building in Huntingdon is floated, with a third and default option that if neither of these proves viable then the collections should be transferred to the new National Civil War centre in Newark.

The report recommends that to make the trust succeed additional funding is needed from the County Council. Running costs would also have to be reduced by the use of volunteers,  and the employment of a curator on less hours, and worse terms and conditions,  than at present.

The report will be discussed by County Councillors in July and the direction of the Museum decided. Although the County Council has not expressly asked for comments on the report the Save the Cromwell Museum campaign strongly urges all supporters of the Museum to make your views known. Further information on the best means to achieve this will be posted shortly when membership of the new committee to take the decision is known.

The future of the Museum is still far from secure. Please help to maintain the pressure to keep this Museum alive.

The full text of the Friends response can be read here.

 

Response from the Friends of the Cromwell Museum.

Background:

The Friends of the Cromwell Museum is a relatively new Charity in its first full year of activity and has, at present, around 30 members paying £15 (individual) or £25 (family) annual membership .

 

Its purpose is to support the work of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon in promoting knowledge of, and the education of the general public in, the life and legacy of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

 

To deliver its purpose the charity aims are:

1                          To promote and publicise the Cromwell Museum within the local and wider community

2                          To provide a forum for social and cultural activities for users of the Museum

3                          To foster understanding of how the Museum is run and funded

4                          To provide a channel for feedback from users of the Museum

5                          To provide potential members for the County Council Cromwell Museum Management/Advisory Committee

Response

The Trustees of the Friends of the Cromwell Museum have considered the Consultant’s Report “Cromwell Museum – Devolution of Governance Review” and, notwithstanding that any progress is heavily reliant on discussions and decisions still to be held within Cambridgeshire County Council, broadly support the recommendations centred on retaining the Museum in its current location under the care of an Independent Trust.

We also note the (draft) Minutes of the Cromwell Museum Management Committee (CMMC) Meeting of 3rd April 2014 that considered the Report.

There are some key concerns and issues that we believe need addressing in order to progress the recommendations.

Some of these could be addressed as the Draft Report moves to being an ‘agreed’ one and others that may be more in the remit of the County Council and emerging Trust subsequently.

Current location and support services

Accepting that (Recommendation 2 on p15 of the 29-page version of the Report) the County Council remains responsible for the fabric, the ‘equipment’ – especially that pertaining to maintaining the Museum environment – should be assessed as being fit for purpose for at least 5 years before being taken on by the Trust.

We consider that the energy costs of the current building (Recommendation 3) could inform a discussion on any future alternate location but overall funding would probably be more of a concern.

We welcome that storage of collection items not on display should remain within the Huntingdon Library and Archive (Recommendation 4) but believe that curatorial accommodation should also be provided therin.

Alternate locations

The CMMC were very supportive in the main aim of keeping the Museum/collection in Huntingdon.

It remains to be seen if this is viable and, should it not prove so to be, then serious consideration needs to be given to the best options for keeping this unique collection together rather than it being fragmented.

Any move will necessarily include discussions with those who currently loan the Museum a significant proportion of its collection and will increase the current level of risk that such loans could cease.

We share concerns expressed at the CMMC that any conversions to Court 2 within the Town Hall to meet the environmental and display requirements for the collection would, even if possible given the historic nature of the Court itself, require considerable extra expense and may also impact unfavourably on visitor numbers.

Curatorial Post

We, reluctantly, accept that a junior curatorial post (Recommendation 5) will make the new Trust more financially viable to start with but that this has its own effects on the future viability of the Museum – predominantly the roles of ‘volunteers’.

Volunteer support

It may well be so, according to the views of the Huntingdon Volunteer Centre, that “museums are attractive to volunteers” (p22) but this has yet be proved to be true for this Museum especially as a move to a part-time Curator will place considerable extra reliance on volunteers not just as ‘attendees’ but formal keyholders . This aspect, rightly, is listed under ‘Cons’ for Option 1 and, to our view, provides significant risk to the future of the Museum equal to if not more so than its funding.

Some Friends members have also raised that there may be employment rules and regulations pertaining to training, management, and administration of volunteers with added health and safety and indemnity issues.

Funding

We were told that the withdrawal of some £30 000 from the ‘Acquisition Fund’ had previously been reported to the CMMC prior to the Friends having a seat there. You will understand that this would have been challenged by us, had we had the opportunity, and we would seek its reinstatement.

The current Fund appears to be being ‘raided’ (Recommendation 6) to support the establishment of the Trust and to employ the new Curator. Even if this were allowable – and which was queried at the CMMC – this would add considerable burdens on the emerging Trust to initiate its own Fund as well as cover its running costs.

This would particularly be so given, in the current uncertainty, that groups who loan items to the collection may have concerns about the Museum’s future viability and second thoughts about those loans. If items were to be withdrawn in the short-term then it would be impossible to compete for them in the commercial market without a measure of available ‘seed-corn’ for such a major appeal.

We would urge that the Fund is ring-fenced for its proper purpose and that the start-up funds for the new Trust are borne by the County Council.

We also believe that there is a risk in expecting additional match funding (to establish the new Trust) and other funding (for running costs, continuing employment of the Curator, finding and training volunteers, and acquiring new material) to be achieved in the suggested timescale of tapering from the County Council.

We understand why the report suggests (p 18) that “any new governing body should re-consider whether income from admission charges and supporting schools should be part of the income mix” but would be reluctant to see anything introduced that could even approach the ‘assumed’ – and, presumably, thought acceptable – 50% reduction in visitor numbers.

Timescale

As well as concerns with the timescale as regards funding (above) the Friends also see the overall timescale – especially towards the setting up of the new Trust – as being ‘optimistic’ given some of the other issues raised above. Even without setting up a new, viable, Trust with trained Trustees, new Curator, volunteers and funding streams we note that one key milestone is the retention of accreditation which has to be achieved by October 2014.

We believe that too much is going on with too little time, and relying on too many – as yet unknown – outcomes to get all done properly. Although much can be being prepared for we are not convinced that all can be delivered and would urge some sensible flexibility in the timescale so that, in the short-term, the County Council and any emerging Trust do not have their eye taken off the first priority of maintaining accreditation.

Role of the Friends

The Report is absolutely right that the “Friends of the Cromwell Museum is a relatively new organisation and needs to grow its membership before it can realistically start to financially support the Cromwell Museum” (p18). This very much limits our current ability to give support (“particularly with fundraising” – p4) and any agreement on a “split of fundraising activities” (p19).

Nor can the Friends be seen as an automatic source of volunteers. Many of our 30 or so members are not ‘local’ – though there may be a few who are local enough and with the willingness and availability to become volunteers.

It’s also right that we are “very committed to supporting an independent Cromwell Museum” (p 18) but this latter view is only because we were faced with the fact that the County Council has made its decision to, eventually, cease its funding. It must be remembered that the ‘Save the Cromwell Museum’ campaign, steered by the Friends, led to nearly 4000 signatures calling on the County Council to reverse this decision and provide funding for at least five years. Their deferral by a year was welcome as being preferable to their original proposal to withdraw funding at the end of March 2015 but not the full outcome sought.

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