News Monday, February 29th

Future for museum collections could be decided soon

The future for Herefordshire’s museum collections could be decided next week.

Options include Herefordshire Council transferring heritage services to a trust, or handing management to partner, like a neighbouring council.

Hereford’s iconic Old House in High Town could get £80,000 worth of improvements - found through existing budgets - to boost the  “hidden treasure” visitor potential of the 17th century site.

Old house

We’ve also learned the £60k the council has from cutting arts commissioning grants will be used for a “one off” library and museum support fund – cash to cover the cost of feasibility studies into future self-financing services. The sums will be accessed by an open bidding process with applications coming from the voluntary or public sectors or partnership schemes.

The council is also said to be keen to be part of any community-led scheme to develop Hereford Library, and Hereford Museum and Art Gallery – currently closed over an asbestos scare.

The options will get a first airing when the council’s cabinet meets next week.

There, councillors will hear (again) that maintaining present service provision is not possible against the authority’s savings targets and budget challenges.

Of the county’s 33 museum/heritage attractions, Herefordshire Council directly operates the Old House museum, Hereford Museum and Art Gallery (HMAG), the Museum Resource and Learning Centre (MRLC), and the Hereford Archive and Collection Centre (HARC).

Ledbury Heritage Centre and Ross Heritage Centre were part of community asset transfers in 2015 and are now run locally.

There are educational outreach services too, such as Museum on the Move which takes elements of the council’s collection to schools, care homes and community groups.

Arts funding: The fight back starts now

The council is working to figures that show there’s been a decrease in use at the heritage/museum sites, but has accepted that the decrease is in large part because the opening times and staffing numbers have been reduced to save money.

Behind the scenes, however, there is an argument that the reduction may, in part, reflect an offer which has been largely unchanged for years, combined with changes to how people access heritage.

Other options the council is considering to make money from the collections, as set out in a report seen by Herefordshire Live, are:

  • Expanded learning and outreach offer with additional charge.
  • Commercial charging for conservation and collections advice/activity.
  • Increase lettings of HARC and MRLC.
  • Charging for conservation work relating to archives.
  • Licensing of images to generate an income.
  • Developing retail sales at the Old House based on locally made crafts.

The council’s medium term financial strategy assumes a future (2019/20) savings target of £278,000 from these services to 2019/20, with proposals yet to be defined.

To support future savings the options report suggests the establishment of a development trust to run in parallel to the heritage service, with the long term potential of operating the service as an independent body.

Additionally, the report suggests shared service across counties.

The Arts Council has invited Herefordshire Council to apply to the Museum Resilience Fund to conduct some of the longer term development work.

Operation of service by a third party was tested through a procurement route in 2012 – but the potential partner withdrew.

The options report says that, though the climate has not necessarily changed, third party management can be explored again.

Hereford Library and Museum remains closed following the discovery of asbestos.

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