Peers support return of Parthenon sculptures

19 Dec 2023

Former Brexit negotiator is among those calling for artefacts to be returned, arguing it should be on the condition of a new cultural partnership between the UK and Greece. 

British Museum signs controversial £50m deal with oil giants BP

BP petrol station sign
19 Dec 2023

New 10-year partnership with BP will support transformation described by museum as 'one of the most significant cultural redevelopment projects ever undertaken'.

Council extends museum lease to secure its future

14 Dec 2023

Worcester Council has extended the lease of a historic museum in the city to 999 years to help secure its long-term future.

Officials hope that the “unusual” extension will allow staff at the Tudor House Museum to make long-term plans.

A report for the authority’s policy and resources committee warns that the extension can not be used to set a precedent for other council leases.

Paul Griffith, chairman of Worcester Municipal Charities, which will hold the new lease, said the extension would give the two charities that run the museum, Worcester Heritage and Amenity Trust, the confidence to continue investing time and money.

"We already have plans to build a new visitors and education centre behind the museum and need to start raising the funds to pay for it," he added.

Media museum cinema remains closed over RAAC concerns

14 Dec 2023

The main cinema in Bradford's National Science and Media Museum will remain closed for "at least six months” because of structural safety concerns.

The presence of reinforced aerated autoclaved concrete (RAAC) was discovered in the museum's main auditorium, Pictureville, in September, with a subsequent survey leading to its closure the following month. 

RAAC was used extensively in the construction of public buildings between the 1950s and the 1970s. It is described as “much weaker” than traditional concrete by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety, with a lifespan of about 30 years.

A spokesperson for the museum said: "Since 20 October, scoping work on remedial options has been ongoing, and both remedial and permanent fixes are being investigated.

"[We are] working with partners to explore off-site programming options".

The museum has two further cinemas, both already closed for refurbishment, financed by a National Lottery grant.

Jewish Museum London gets funding for community work

13 Dec 2023

The Jewish Museum London has received more than £200,000 to work in the community ahead of a move to a new building.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund will provide £231,000 for the "Jewish Museum London on the Move" project which involves the development of learning and collections programmes around the UK to new and existing audiences after it left its premises in Camden in June this year.

Learning programmes will be adapted for outreach in London schools, along with virtual programming and broadcasts about Jewish festivals. In person schools workshops will begin again in partner venues from spring 2024 and plans are in place to develop the schools offer for 2025. 

Meanwhile, community and heritage partnerships will host family days around London and reminiscence sessions with the museum's collections will take place in Jewish care homes.

Chair of Trustees, Nick Viner said: “The trustees of Jewish Museum London are very grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for this investment which will enable our ongoing transition towards a future museum. 

"We’re delighted that our objects can already be seen around the country, and this support will enable us to expand further our programme of loans and displays, alongside our education work. Jewish Museum London exists to celebrate the UK’s diverse Jewish community and heritage. Now more than ever we need to foster understanding between all cultures.”

The museum, which receives £224,000 a year from Arts Council England as part of the National Portfolio for 2023-26, hopes to reopen in a larger new home within the next five years.

British Museum told to 'define its collection' in review

12 Dec 2023

An independent review into thefts at The British Museum has made a series of recommendations on risk management, auditing, governance and security, as well as introducing a comprehensive register of all eight million items in its collections.

The proposals insist the museum should “have a policy which defines what comprises its collection” and that it “should identify the unregistered or inadequately registered objects within the collection and register them fully”.

Efforts to document the museum's entire collection were announced in October and are expected to take five years to complete.

The review also advised changes in governance that will see The British Museum’s Director and Deputy share power. Collective decisions will be made by a management committee formed of the director, two deputies and four other senior staff.

It suggested trustees be granted more involvement in the day-to-day running of the museum, including being paired with individual departments and having oversight of staff issues, while also giving staff more representation through board members.

The independent review was led by Sir Nigel Boardman, a former corporate lawyer, Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, and Ian Karet, a deputy high court judge. The museum has unanimously accepted the review’s recommendations.

The theft of around 1,500 Greek and Roman objects by an employee between 1993 and 2022 first emerged in August, causing considerable reputational damage.

The thefts were mainly of unregistered items – gems and jewellery. The museum said 351 items have been returned, with 300 further missing items identified.

In addition to the missing or stolen artefacts, 500 items were damaged, with 140 found to have tool marks, while 350 had portions removed, such as gold mounts for gems, which had likely been sold for scrap.

Details about the timeline of the museum's investigation were also included in the report, which said: “The museum was alerted to suspicions of thefts in 2021 by Dr Ittai Gradel. The museum’s investigation incorrectly concluded that there was no basis to the claims.”

Later that year, a spot check during an internal audit revealed an item not in its proper location within the Greece and Rome strongroom, triggering a more comprehensive collection audit in April 2022. Concerns arising from the audit were brought to senior management in December 2022.

Sir Mark Jones, who became Interim Director following the resignation of Dr Hartwig Fischer, said: “No one can pretend this has been an easy period for the Museum, but I have the utmost admiration for the commitment of the staff to building a stronger future for the Museum we all care so deeply about.”

George Osborne, Chair of Trustees, said the review, which was not published in full, “shows the British Museum is putting our own house in order".

"Indeed, we commissioned it because we were determined to learn the lessons of what went wrong. The British Museum was the victim of thefts over a long period, and we apologise again that this was allowed to happen.

"The ongoing police investigation means the full report cannot be published today, but we have accepted the recommendations in full and have started to recover hundreds of the stolen items."

Museum Wales’ £325k payoff ‘least-worst outcome’

06 Dec 2023

Senior civil servants have defended their handling of an employment dispute that resulted in a payout of over £325k to the former Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales - and legal costs of £420k.

On 30 November, the Senedd’s Public Accounts Committee heard from Andrew Slade, the Welsh Government’s Director General for  Economy, Skills and Natural Resources, who described the costs as reasonable, representing the “least-worst outcome” for taxpayers.

Asked whether the payment and fees provided value for money, Slade said that an employment tribunal would have taken about two years to resolve the issue, with the outcome potentially subject to appeal.

Labour MS Rhianon Passmore noted that a tribunal could have incurred significantly higher costs of £1.2m to £1.8m. 

The payout followed a longstanding employment dispute between the museum’s former Director General, David Anderson, and former President Roger Lewis, in which Anderson brought grievances against Lewis for bullying and discriminatory treatment. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Amgueddfa Cymru agreed to make Anderson, who stepped down in November last year,  payments of more than £325k.

A further settlement of £12k went to the former Chief Operating Officer, who also bought a grievance against Lewis, with total legal fees estimated at £420k.

During the committee hearing, Passmore asked why mediation did not occur for eight months after concerns were first flagged in the spring of 2021 following Lewis’s annual review. Slade responded that the government did not have a process in place to deal with a breakdown of relations between senior museum leaders.

In October, an auditor responsible for overseeing public spending in Wales raised concerns that the settlement may not have complied with the requirements of charity law.

Amgueddfa Cymru said in a statement that while it respects the Auditor General’s opinion, “some of the evidence provided has not been reflected in the report” and that “as a result, we do not feel it a fair representation of the events that occurred or fully considers the complicated circumstances which [we] had to resolve.

‘Hazardous substance risk’ behind museum closure

01 Dec 2023

A museum was prevented from reopening after a health and safety inspection discovered  "hazardous substances risks", according to a heritage organisation.

The Wirral Transport Museum and Tramway was closed on 20 April by Wirral Council following an inspection by the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), which found “significant contraventions of health and safety law” both in the building and in the procedures of how the museum and tramline operated.

Big Heritage,  which finalised its takeover of the museum on 17 November from the Wirral Council, said that the closure had been an "inconvenience, but no inconvenience supersedes public safety and the risk to life of visitors and volunteers".

In a statement, Big Heritage said: "We have every sympathy with volunteers and visitors who have been frustrated at this situation.

"But we can attest that Wirral Council took the results of the inspection very seriously and have spent considerable time and resources to address the issues raised as quickly as possible."

The company said procedures had been implemented to monitor and record a range of health and safety and control of hazardous substances risks. It added that a model railway donated 20 years ago has been removed from display as it posed a serious fire risk.

Big Heritage has announced plans to raise over £5m to transform the museum and double its size.

A Wirral Council spokesperson told the BBC: "Ahead of the transfer of the building, there were several issues identified by the council and the ORR report that needed to be addressed and which required the facility to remain closed so the work could be carried out safely.

"The security and upkeep of the building is now in the hands of Big Heritage CIC, while the council-owned heritage trams are on loan to them, with specific contractual requirements around their safety, security and maintenance.

"The council is committed to providing ongoing support to all parties with an interest in the future success of the Wirral Transport Museum."

Review of indemnity scheme for loaning items underway

Woman looks at items in an exhibition
29 Nov 2023

Review of government scheme may see humidity, temperature and light arrangements for storing cultural items on loan agreed on a case-by-case basis. 

Sunak snubs Greek PM over Parthenon sculptures claim

Elgin Parthenon Marbles
28 Nov 2023

Greek Prime Minister has been calling for the return of the entire Parthenon frieze to Athens since taking office five years ago.

Museum delays reopening as bad weather hinders repairs

28 Nov 2023

A Lancashire museum undergoing roof repairs has delayed its reopening until next year due to severe weather conditions.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery closed temporarily on 1 November to allow for work to take place and was expected to reopen on 29 November. The £554,700 roof replacement scheme is partly funded by Arts Council England’s (ACE) Museum Estate and Development fund.

A spokesperson for Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery told the Lancashire Telegraph it now plans to reopen on 3 January.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, a 150-year-old roof does need a lot of TLC, and a new roof will ensure that we can continue to care for our collections without worry of water ingress for years to come.”

Previously, water leakage had caused internal damage to the building, limiting the display of the museum’s collections.

The work is being financed by a £365,000 ACE grant and £189,700 from the museum’s owner, Blackburn with Darwen Council.

The gallery recently won National Portfolio Organisation status for 2023-26, worth £148,000 annually.

Historic Manchester library awarded £450k

27 Nov 2023

The Portico Library in Manchester has been awarded a £453,964 development grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The money will be used to transform the historic library, creating an accessible and sustainable space for arts, books, learning and history.

Established in 1806, the library will now partner with experts and community stakeholders to trial plans for a £7m capital development project to revitalise the building as a creative space while preserving its historic book collection. 

The £453,964 development grant will contribute to producing environmentally sustainable architectural plans and mapping out methods to reunite all three original floors of the Grade II* Listed building.

John Carpenter, the library's Chair, said: “The news that The National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting the Portico Library's bold scheme to open up and share its extraordinary heritage and collection to Manchester residents and visitors is a major cultural signal to Manchester, the North and the UK.
“This visionary project, years in the making, fulfils our mission of working with the many people in Manchester to explore, share, and celebrate their diverse stories and the city's literary and global heritage. Embracing creativity, collaboration and inclusivity, the project will unlock the library's past to plan for the future.”

Badenoch criticises 'unreliable' Museum of London research

27 Nov 2023

Business and Equalities Secretary Kemi Badenoch has dubbed research from the Museum of London “unreliable”, accusing the organisation of using statistics to “whip up tensions around history and racism”.

Posting on X, Badenoch said that by publishing a study that suggests black women were more likely to have died during an outbreak of plague in the 14th Century, the museum was “undermining social cohesion in our country”.

Badenoch criticised the sample size and methods used by researchers, as well as comparisons made between the Black Death and the Covid pandemic. 

In a letter to the museum seen by The Times, she said: “It is imperative that ethnic minorities feel able to trust our healthcare institutions and that they are given accurate information about health outcomes based on robust evidence.

It is also important that evidence, be it historical or current, is not presented in a way that is misleading or that implies that the information is reliable when it is not.”

Museum hit by flooding to reopen next year

23 Nov 2023

A Derby museum forced to close after devastating flooding last month will not reopen until next year.

The Museum of Making was severely impacted by Storm Babet, which caused damage expected to cost at the "top end" of five figures to repair, according to Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums.

Butler said none of the collections had been affected but that lifts and fire doors had been damaged and need replacing. The museum is working with its insurers and Derby City Council, which owns the building, to get damaged items repaired.

The BBC reports that a full reopening is not expected until sometime in 2024.

"My preference would be for a full opening - we want the building to be fully accessible for all our visitors," said Butler.

National Trust urges climate action over heritage threat

20 Nov 2023

The National Trust has called on government to take action dealing with the risk that rising temperatures and extreme weather pose to the nation’s heritage sites.

In a report published on Monday (20 November) the National Trust called climate change "the single biggest threat" facing the historic homes, land and coastline in its custodianship.

Entitled A climate for change, the report’s findings suggest 70% of its heritage assets will be at “medium or high risk” of climate hazards by 2060.

The conservation charity has proposed introducing a Climate Resilience Act that sets targets to prepare for the risk posed by climate change, saying the issue demanded “urgent and unswerving attention”.

It also wants to see a statutory duty on all public bodies and more funding from government for landowners, heritage organisations and tourism groups to help them adapt and protect their buildings, coastlines and countryside.

Patrick Begg, the outdoors and natural resources director at the National Trust, said: “We’re at a point where we need to raise a flag. We’re living the change. There are some serious, serious impacts happening.”

A government spokesperson told the BBC it had a five-year national adaptation programme to increase the country's resilience to climate change risks, including those posed to heritage sites, coastline and countryside, and is committed to investing billions of pounds in broader climate change adaptation measures.

National Trust members vote against pressure group

15 Nov 2023

Members of the National Trust have rejected the election of five candidates endorsed by the pressure group Restore Trust.

Restore Trust was set up three years ago for members concerned that the Trust’s priorities were being driven by “modish, divisive ideologies”. 

A record turnout of 156,000 members voted in the Trust’s council elections at this year’s AGM held on 11 November.

Members also rejected two resolutions put forward by the Restore Trust.

Following the AGM, Zewditu Gebreyohanes, Director of Restore Trust, announced she was to step down.

Gebreyohanes said she made the decision six months ago and plans to focus on her work as a researcher at the Legatum Institute, a controversial think-tank based in London closely aligned with the Vote Leave Brexit campaign.

Museum leaves online platform after trans rights 'Twitter storm'

A phone showing social media apps including X (formally Twitter)
15 Nov 2023

As cultural organisations address divisive issues in an increasingly challenging social media landscape, some are choosing to leave certain platforms after experiencing controversy.

Families of Grenfell fire victims seek permanent exhibition

15 Nov 2023

The families of victims of the Grenfell fire are calling for a permanent museum or public exhibition to honour those who lost their lives.

A report released by the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission earlier this week proposed a long-term museum or exhibition housed in an existing museum to make sure future generations can learn about and remember the tragedy.

The report, which is the second of its kind and the result of four years of consultation with bereaved families, survivors and residents who live close to Grenfell Tower, also called for a memorial that features art, water and display a mix of faiths and cultural backgrounds that make up the Grenfell community.

It said the memorial should be located at an alternative but easily accessible site, or sites, in London, to avoid the scene becoming a tourist destination.

It also suggested a separate private archive to house community tributes that are becoming “vulnerable to the elements”. 

“There is an urgent need to create a permanent and fitting space for the Grenfell community to remember, to mourn and to reflect upon their experiences,” Thelma Stober and Lord Paul Boateng, co-Chairs of the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission, said.

Timings for the development of a memorial will be dependent on the government’s decision on the future of Grenfell Tower, but the memorial commission is hopeful construction could begin from late 2026.

Families of the victims have also requested a garden and built structure be incorporated into a permanent memorial at the site of the fire.

The fire in west London killed 72 people on 14 June 2017.

Natural History Museum's plan to split collection criticised

14 Nov 2023

The Natural History Museum's plans to relocate millions of specimens, including mammals, corals and worms, from London to Reading have been criticised by experts.

In a letter to The Times, seven former researchers at the museum and 23 international experts argued that the move would be detrimental and lead to a loss of expertise.

“While most biological research can be pursued on any university campus,” they wrote, “only natural history museums with their collections and experts located in intact and cohesive institutions can lead in this arena.”

The museum announced last year that it would move 28m of its 80m objects to a new facility at Thames Valley Science Park, on land owned by the University of Reading, constituting the most significant move of its collections since the 1880s.

The museum says the move will offer more space for the collection to grow and better opportunities for analysing and digitising specimens. In their letter, critics of the plan questioned why a London-based university could not be found to house the specimens.

Fred Naggs, a former staff member, said: “My take is they considered the collections and the scientists to be occupying prime real estate and that they could simply be moved out of London."

A museum spokeswoman said: “We’re moving some of the collection to Reading to make it easier for us to take care of it, digitise it and share its data with scientists all over the world who are finding solutions to problems like climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.

“We came to this decision by listening carefully to our colleagues and the wider scientific community. As a leading scientific research centre, we think it’s important to unlock and share the value of all natural history collections.”

Toppled statue of slave trader to go back on display in Bristol

13 Nov 2023

A statue of transatlantic slave trader Edward Colston that was pulled down by protesters will return to public display at a museum in Bristol next year.

The controversial monument gained worldwide attention after it was toppled during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in 2020 before being thrown into the city’s harbour.

It was temporarily displayed at M Shed Museum from June 2021 to January 2022 but has been out of public view since.

Following a city-wide consultation and a We Are Bristol History Commission report, the statue will be included in a new M Shed exhibition on protest and racial injustice from March next year.

In a blog post, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: "The vast majority (80 per cent) of Bristol residents who responded agreed that the best place for the statue in the future was in one of our museums."

"To help make this a reality, an application to regularise the legal position of the listed asset, away from its plinth, has recently been submitted, which will go to a planning committee early in the new year."

Rees said the application was submitted following discussions with Historic England.

Last month the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published a five-step "tool-kit" for cultural decision-makers to follow when faced with calls to remove a public statue or monument.

Known as ‘retain and explain’, the government's strategy for contentious heritage assets has, since 2021, been to keep them in place, accompanied by an explanation of their historical context. 


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