Closure fears due to massive cutbacks at County Hall

Flashback to the 2006 campaign to save Fleetwood Museum
Flashback to the 2006 campaign to save Fleetwood Museum
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Fleetwood Museum campaigners say they are ‘ready to fight’ again if the facility is axed.

The message comes after it was revealed the museum could be under threat of closure in light of massive multi-million cutbacks at County Hall.

If the museum were to close, what would happen to our large exhibits and the collection on Fleetwood’s fishing industry?

The new revelation was made almost 10 years after a stirring Save Our Museum campaign was launched in Fleetwood and helped rescue the Queens Terrace facility from almost certain closure.

One supporter, Shakespeare Primary School headteacher Susan Bartlett, vowed: “We will fight to save it again if needed.”

Lancashire County Council bosses are looking at every service provided by the authority to find savings, after it was revealed the council needs to cut an extra £223m by 2020 because of Government cutbacks.

And with museums being a non-statutory service, the council has no legal requirements to provide them, leaving these facilities potentially vulnerable to the axe.

This week the leaders of the museum’s 60-strong volunteers team admitted they were worried - and there is talk of another campaign if needed.

Sue Porter, who is treasurer of both the Friends of Fleetwood Museum and the Fleetwood Museum Trust, said: “It’s a very big worry.

“If the museum were to close, what would happen to our large exhibits and the collection on Fleetwood’s fishing industry?

“For children in Fleetwood these days, the museum is the main way they can find out about our fishing heritage.

“People would really miss it.”

The funding crisis comes at a time when the museum, which costs County around £80,000 to run, is busier than ever, with more schools from across the North visiting than ever before.

A source at the museum said around 2,100 school children alone visited the school this season - a rise of five per cent.

Aside from the wealth of photos and documents about Fleetwood’s fishing industry and Victorian heritage, the museum also plays host to two vintage fishing vessels, Judy and Harriet, which are being renovated on site.

The museum was saved the first time around in 2006 when a massive community campaign was launched in the town by residents and the Weekly News, who sent a petition to County Hall and won a 12 month reprieve.

Then, with the museum in danger of closure again, former Fleetwood county councillor Keith Riley and campaigner June Jackson held a meeting to mobilise volunteers. Sue and Keith Porter joined and helped form Fleetwood Museum Trust.

Fleetwood’s innovative approach saw it become the first Trust-run museum in Lancashire, after several staff members were laid off.

Mr Riley then arranged a deal with company Paymaster to provide £30,000 - £10,000 for three years - to keep the museum open from 2008-2010.

Since then the facility has survived on a relatively low budget because only two people - experienced museum manager Lynn Asghar and assistant Jennifer Ray - are paid. The rent for the building, owned by Wyre Council, is also low - paid by County to Wyre at a peppercorn rate. However, the two wages, maintenance costs and fuel bills still amount to around £80,000 at a time when County Hall is looking to save huge sums of cash.

Mr Riley said of the latest situation: “If it looks like the closure threat is very real, hopefully there can be another rescue like there was before.”

And Shakespeare Primary School head Sue Bartlett, a Mumeum Trust member, said: “The museum is the guardian of our history and many of the volunteers worked in the fishing industry. We will fight to save it again if needed.”

The museum charges a small fee for entrance and its season runs from Easter until the end of October.

Leaders at County Hall have divided all services into what must be provided legally and what is non-statutory, and museums are one of the many areas under threat.

Bosses have stressed the reviews are not proposals, and every area of the council is being scrutinised to make way for cuts.

A document made public in the past week says Lancashire Museums is a 100 per cent non-statutory service.

It says before the ceasing of any museum, there would be a consultation with partners from other councils.

It also says there is likely to be a commercial value to some items or collections, which could be sold to other museums or collectors.

It says: “There is no obvious legal impact of stopping the museums, arts development, 84 per cent of the cultural services support and development team and the community heritage services, however the impact for staff, citizens of Lancashire, wider economic and social value of those services need to be considered prior to any decision being made.”

Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council, said no decisions had been made yet. He said: “The division between statutory and non-statutory is not the same as the division between important and not important.

“Clearly some of the things that are non-statutory are things that are very important, and we are wrestling with how we manage to cope with that situation. We’re not making that decision at the moment.”

Options for next year’s budget will be presented later this month.