Lancaster museums are ‘stuck in the past’ says city councillor

Lancaster City Museum.
Lancaster City Museum.

A Lancaster councillor has slammed the city’s museums as being “quite literally stuck in the past” amid radical plans to safeguard the district’s heritage.

There are fears that some of Lancaster’s museums could be closed in a county council bid to cut costs.

Coun Darren Clifford.

Coun Darren Clifford.

But city council cabinet members met on Tuesday to discuss a report from experienced museum consultants Aitken, Prince and Pearce which aims to save as much as possible.

The report includes a bold vision for the future, including a revamp of the City Museum as the central hub of a new and revitalised museums service.

A new multi-use facility on Morecambe seafront with museums and a cultural dimension and the possible closures of Lancaster’s Maritime and Cottage Museums have also been recommended.

No decisions were taken on the report, but cabinet members agreed to commission a complete redesign of the museums service with the emphasis on providing an enhanced cultural offer and much improved public access.

A more detailed review of longer term management options will also be undertaken, along with further feasibility work on each of the proposed elements in the report.

Coun Darren Clifford, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “Museums can no longer be ‘cabinets of curiosities’ – they need to be interactive, dynamic and educational, centred around the visitor experience and powered by a commercial engine.

“Unfortunately Lancaster’s museums are, quite literally, stuck in the past, and would require a massive investment to bring them up to date with modern expectations.

“Unless we look at making fundamental changes and rethinking how we run them, they will spiral into insignificance.

“Across the country we’ve seen a number of museums put under threat due to the reductions the Government is making in local government funding.

“While finance is certainly a factor, the key driver for us is make sure we have a museums service that will really excite future generations and encourage them to connect with our heritage.”

County Coun Marcus Johnstone, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, said: “These are very challenging times for the museum sector as a whole, and across the country organisations are considering how best they can make museums sustainable and relevant for the future.

“As the City Museum, Cottage Museum and Maritime Museum are all owned by Lancaster City Council, and managed on their behalf by the county council, any decisions about their future are obviously for Lancaster City Council to take. However we will consider the points made in the report carefully.”

Among other recommendations, the report from Aitken, Prince and Pearce suggests:

* The City Museum could potentially act as a gateway to the city and the wider district and could include the Visitor Information Centre, retail and catering alongside frequently refreshed collections and exhibitions.

* In the longer term the development of a new multi-use facility at Morecambe Seafront, with a museums and cultural dimension, should be looked into. This would bring together the interests of many partners around culture, heritage, ecology, wildlife and outdoor pursuits.

* The Maritime and Cottage Museums should be closed as maintaining them would be costly and risk the viability of the museum service as a whole. The Customs House part of the Maritime Museum, however, could be ‘mothballed’ in case the building is needed in connection with the interpretation of the Roman finds found recently in Quay Meadow.

* New improved storage facilities are needed so collections from all the museums are consolidated and conserved in a new store.