The Dorman long tower, built in the 1950s, on the former steelworks in Redcar was demolished yesterday after its listed status was rescinded by the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. The 56 metre high tower had been used to store coal. It was saved from demolition last year when Historic England granted it Grade II listed status, as it was considered to be of national importance as “a rare surviving remnant of the coal, iron and steel industries”, as well a monument to Teesside’s industrial past. This was Dorries’ first intervention since becoming Culture Secretary last week and it is to be hoped that she does not intend to make a habit of it.
Yet more disturbing news about museum cut backs as a result of the effects of Covid. Bletchley Park has identified that the reduction of one-third of its staff would mitigate the estimated financial loss of 95% of its income due to the closure, leaving a £2m gap in its budget. 85% of the trust’s staff has already been furloughed. Other cost-saving measures being considered include lowering spend on marketing, exhibitions, travel and IT.
Meanwhile, staff at York Museums Trust, where losses of £1.4m have been sustained, have been warned that two-thirds of their jobs are at risk. About 70% of the trust’s income comes from ticket sales and visitor spend. Although it has received an emergency grant from Arts Council England, and has backing from the City Council, the trust’s chief executive, Reyahn Khan, believes it will not be enough to keep the trust afloat.
Matters are no better in Scotland, where Museums Galleries Scotland estimates that two-thirds of the country’s independent museums will not survive another year without additional funding, despite a £4m emergency fund, part of the DCMS cultural rescue package. The situation is compounded by a number of factors. Many small museums would find it difficult to open with social distancing measures in place and are run by volunteers who are unwilling or unable to return. As costs are scrutinised, University museums are also under threat, because they are not seen as core elements of research and teaching.
With every day that passes during the pandemic we move ever further away from the likelihood that life truly will be able to return to normal.
DCMS’s announcement of the government rescue package of £1.57 billion for arts and heritage was received with cautious optimism. There was mention of boosting employment prospects for both permanent staff and freelancers with specific funding for projects that had been mothballed due to Covid, but there is still concern that money will not reach quickly enough areas where it is needed most. With grants available from £50,000 up to £3 million, distribution of funds in the GLAM sector has fallen to Arts Council England, Historic England and National Heritage Lottery Fund. Applications are open for the first phase of grants but, whilst eligibility is wide, the window is short.
More details here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/culture-recovery-fund-grants#section-1
So, the government has announced its £1.57 billion rescue package for heritage and the arts, but the Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said yesterday that the grants will not be paid until later in the summer and that they would be used to protect “crown jewels” and “cultural anchors” in the regions. Why late summer and not now? That will come far too late for some. And what exactly are the “crown jewels” and “cultural anchors”? Doubtless the crown jewels will turn out to be the big attractions in London, such as the theatres and national museums, taking the lion’s share of the pot to the detriment of many small local museums and theatres.
A government taskforce is being set up to help reopen the cultural sector in England. Overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and chaired by a DCMS minister, its responsibilities will include tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport. The group will be one of five official taskforces helping develop new “Covid-19 secure” guidelines specific to different parts of the economy. The other taskforces will oversee pubs and restaurants, non-essential retail, places of worship and international aviation. Separate sectoral sub-groups will be set up under each taskforce to examine issues specific to that sector. A museums and galleries working group is being set up by the recreation and leisure taskforce. It will work with the museum sector on the possible reopening of institutions in England in stage three of the UK government’s plan for lifting lockdown restrictions. The earliest this could take place is 4 July.
The Cultural Renewal Taskforce panel will be led by Neil Mendoza, the architect of the 2017 Mendoza Review of Museums in England. The other members are:
Part of Mendoza’s brief will be to collaborate with Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and other sectoral bodies to develop and deliver a strategy fit to support organisations large and small. The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden also announced £200 million in new funding which will be made available for small charities “that are at the heart of their communities”, but without any specific detail on how much of this – if any – would be available for cultural organisations.
The Welsh and Northern Irish governments have published recovery plans where open-air museums will open before other institutions. Museums Galleries Scotland is working with the Scottish government on plans to reopen the museum sector.
Whilst this all sounds very heartening, let’s hope that it’s not too little or too late to help British culture and heritage to rebound from the damaging impacts of the coronavirus lockdown.
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