Museum promotion facing axe

A SENIOR councillor says it is “imperative” that funding is found to sustain a museum service enjoyed by thousands of people every year.

Hartlepool Borough Council has managed to secure £389,850 for the next financial year to continue its programme of encouraging people from the town and surrounding areas into museums.

But the Government has made it clear that the funds – from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) – will dry up by April 1, 2012.

Hartlepool’s museums service co-ordinates Renaissance schemes, through which museums and galleries encourage new audiences, across the Tees Valley.

The secured funds will be used to continue the employment of 15 people across the region until March next year – with another person being employed for one year – and to continue the Renaissance scheme.

Independent councillor Hilary Thompson, portfolio holder for culture and leisure, met to discuss the future of the service at a recent meeting. A report outlined some of its achievements including:

l An increase in the overall number of visitors to museums and galleries to more than 180,000,

l The number of school visits rising from fewer than 2,000 in 2003 to more than 15,000 in the current financial year,

l The number of “non-traditional” museum visitors including disabled people and disadvantaged young people rising to 5,000.

l The award-winning Curiosity Shop project in which exhibits were taken to empty shops across the Tees Valley and were seen by 140,000 people.

Coun Thompson said: “The school visitor numbers is incredible and it is great that we have included so many.

“The future of the service is uncertain and it is imperative that we find new ways to fund it.

“With this exceptional record behind us I hope that we can do that.”

Coun Thompson endorsed officer plans to “explore all alternative” sources of funding before the current scheme comes to an end in 2012. A report said that current comments from the MLA would suggest a small parachute fund will be available in 2012-13 to help with the transition period.