Three museums rescue bid key to city’s future

The Friends of the Judges Lodgings in Lancaster are forming a plan to take over the running of the museum
The Friends of the Judges Lodgings in Lancaster are forming a plan to take over the running of the museum

The fight is on to save three museums in the city from closure and preserve “the story of Lancaster” for future generations.

Lancaster BID, Lancaster University, The University of Cumbria, the Chamber of Commerce, The Dukes and Marketing Lancashire have all expressed serious concern that the closure of The Judges Lodgings, Maritime and Cottage Museums would be bad news for the city’s economy and visitor experience.

Pictured is Coun Nick Wilkinson and chairman of the Friends, David Redmore.

Pictured is Coun Nick Wilkinson and chairman of the Friends, David Redmore.

More than 5,000 people have also signed a petition on change.org to save the Judges Lodgings.

Lancaster City Coun Nick Wilkinson, with backing from seven other councillors, is asking chief executive Mark Cullinan to request that Lancashire County Council reviews its options in supporting a body that could take on the musuems and make them sustainable in the long run.

He is also asking the county council to keep the Judges Lodgings open until the review has been completed.

Coun Wilkinson said: “We are not calling for an increase in funding, we all recognise the dire situation of both City and County budgets.

“The budgets for museums will need to be reduced but the museums can work differently and can generate an income themselves.

“What our motion is calling for is creativity, entrepreneurship, vision and for partnership working to make the best out of this situation.”

The Friends of the Judges Lodgings group has been meeting regularly to discuss how to move the proposals forward.

Antiques expert Susan E Stuart said recently of the Judges Lodgings: “The Gillows Collection is absolutely outstanding, the best in the country if not the world.”

Coun Wilkinson said: “If we can’t save these museums, how can we tell the story of Lancaster to future generations and our visitors?

“We will be moving from ‘Small City Big Story’ to ‘Small City No Story’”.

Coun Wilkinson said neither councils are seeing the huge potential of the museums as a visitor attraction for the city and the opportunity missed from not evaluating alternative ways to deliver the musuems service.

He added: “The city and county councils owe it to the people of Lancaster to assess, in detail, the potential to create an external Lancaster wide museums organisation, and evaluate the knock on impacts this could have in terms of economic growth let alone safeguarding the heritage of our district for all to see.”

Decisions are due to be made in the coming months.

Visitor numbers at all of Lancaster’s museums have fallen, in some cases sharply, over the last few years, but some say this is down to a reduction in marketing and promotion.

The Judges Lodgings, which gets around 12,000 visitors a year, is expected to close later this year, while the city council is currently exploring whether it can mothball the Maritime Museum, which welcomes around 12,000 people a year and Cottage Museum, which gets 7,000 visitors a year.

All three musuems are also popular destinations for school educational visits.

Those that support Coun Wilkinson’s motion include Prof Mark E Smith, Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Prof Peter Strike of Vice-Chancellor, University of Cumbria, Ruth Connor, Chief Executive of Marketing Lancashire, John Regan, Chairman of Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, Paul Cusimano, Chairman of Lancaster BID, Ivan Wadeson, Executive Director of the Dukes, Jacqueline Greaves, chairman of Litfest and Di Cumming, Chief Executive of ludusdance.