Desperate pleas for museum to remain open

Fleetwood Museum Trust members have made an impassioned plea to Lancashire County Council to keep the doors open this year until a rescue package is set up.

Wednesday, 2nd March 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd March 2016, 11:21 am
Trustees and volunteers from the Fleetwood Museum are battling to keep it safe from closure

County Hall, facing massive Government cuts, has already confirmed it cannot afford to keep the facility open and Fleetwood Town Council is looking to take over the financial running of it.

But it is feared the Town Council move could take several months to finalise while the organisation liaises with County Hall over financial details, and with museum premises owners Wyre Council.

That means the Queens Terrace museum, which houses precious collections on Fleetwood’s fishing, industrial and social history, will not be in a position to open up its doors in April for the new season.

And while it lies shut up, Fleetwood Museum Trust say it will lose the momentum of business it has built up over recent years, putting its progress back.

But the biggest fear is that its army of 60 volunteers will eventually walk away and that when it does finally re-open, there will not be enough people left to properly man it.

Keith Porter, chairman of Fleetwood Museum Trust, said: “We are desperate to try and open in April and keep going until the council are in a position to take over.

“But Lancashire County Council don’t seem to be listening,

“It won’t cost the council any extra to keep it open because the heating will still have to be kept on to maintain the collections at the right temperature, if it is open or not, It will be a serious setback if we cannot open for the new season – when a business is set to be taken over, you never close the business.

“It will mean we could lose the customer base we have built up over the last few years and our volunteer base.

“We just want County officials give us more time, but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”

County Hall says it is putting measures in place to make transitions regarding the closure of its five museums, including Fleetwood, easier.

Coun Lorraine Beavers, the county councillor for Fleetwood West, said: “I have been given an undertaking at County Hall that the negotiations between Lancashire and Fleetwood Town Council will take place as quickly as possible.

“I will look into these concerns.”

And Coun Terry Rogers, chairman of Fleetwood Town Council, said: “We have put forward our Expression of Interest and just hope that things now go as quickly and smoothly as possible.

“No one wants to see the museum lying closed and we’ll lobby to keep it open while negotiations continue with County.”

But Sue Porter, treasurer of the Trust and a volunteer, says County has not responded to that effect and there are fears the museum could be shut for many months, including the summer season.

She said: “We have written to all the leading figures at County - the council leader, the chief executive, the culture portfolio holder, but the only response has been a stock reply and above the council having to make savings.

“If the museum is shut, it will make no difference to the council, but it will make a difference to the Trust, the volunteers and the museum

“The business rates will still have to be paid, the staff will have to be paid for several months, weekly security checks and fire alarms will still be needed, whether it is shut or not.

“We have a school party booking still lined up for two weeks in May. If we are shut it will be awkward.”

As things stand, the museum will re-open for Easter, from March 22 to March 31, but then faces months - possibly even a full year - of closure.

County Councillor Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “Even with the £65m savings identified in the budget, we still need to find more than £200m by 2020. That challenge means making very difficult decisions.

“We are absolutely committed to finding ways to keep these museums open if at all possible and we are in active discussions with a number of interested parties. Additional groups who may be interested in running these museums have until the end of March to express their interest.

“At the Budget Full Council meeting we agreed to establish a number of cross-party working groups, along with a £3 million contingency fund, to help reduce the impact of cuts on services. One of those working groups will look at libraries and museums, and will have a focus on working with external organisations who may be able to take over the running of these museums.

“We have also made provisions to ensure that negotiations can continue beyond the end of March, to give them the best possible chance of success.”