A new bat­tle for Hast­ings and be­yond: to save lo­cal mu­se­ums

More than 40% of re­gional venues forced to cut open­ing hours as shrink­ing bud­gets take their toll

The Observer - - NEWS - By Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Me­dia Correspondent

The legacy of 1066 and all that means that Hast­ings will for­ever be iden­ti­fied with the piv­otal bat­tle be­tween Nor­mans and An­glo- Sax­ons. Yet the East Sus­sex sea­side town now faces a fight to pre­serve ac­cess to the study of its role in English his­tory.

Two years ago the Old Town Hall Mu­seum of Lo­cal His­tory, one of two mu­se­ums run by the bor­ough coun­cil, closed down for good. The re­main­ing Hast­ings Mu­seum and Art Gallery was left to pro­mote the her­itage of one of the most sig­nif­i­cant lo­ca­tions in the coun­try.

New re­search shared with the Ob­server this week­end re­veals the ex­tent to which Hast­ings has been hit, in com­mon with many other Bri­tish towns, by the new aus­ter­ity mea­sures im­posed on mu­se­ums in the last seven years.

Open­ing hours at many of the coun­try’s re­gional mu­se­ums have been cur­tailed, the fig­ures show. Sta­tis­tics made pub­lic in re­sponse to a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion in­quiry submitted by Labour’s shadow arts and cul­ture min­is­te­rial team show that more than 40% of 257 lo­calau­thor­ity-run mu­se­ums have short­ened open­ing times. Those times are shorter by an av­er­age of 30% over the pe­riod due to fund­ing cuts, and amount to a loss of 23,483 open­ing hours since 2010.

In 2010 both the Old Town Hall Mu­seum of Lo­cal His­tory and the Hast­ings Mu­seum and Art Gallery were open for 2,270 hours each. Since then, open­ing times at the re­main­ing mu­seum m have shrunk by 14.7%. “We have had to do a lot of re­think­ing, but there is still space pace to show plenty of re­mark­able things s here,” said Cathy Walling, cu­ra­tor of Hast­ings ast­ings mu­seum, a grand faux cas­tle that hat sits above the sea on White Rock Road. d.

Among its top ex­hibits, to Walling’s ng’s ex­pert eye, are a rare Hawai­ian n cer­e­mo­nial cape and a quirky dis­play of 66 ob­jects telling the town’s long story. Be­gin­ning with th ev­i­dence ev­in­va­sion of the full-scale Nor­man in­va­sion af­ter the bat­tle in which King Harold old lost his life, this two-room dis­play in­cludes ludes a sur­viv­ing sailor’s bis­cuit, a mu­ral painted by Robert Tres­sell, au­thor of The Ragged-Raggedo Trousered Phi­lan­thropists, who lived lo­cally, and a poster boast­ing the town’s de­vel­op­ment as a thriv­ing re­sort in 1935, com­plete with huge lido (de­mol­ished in 1993) and the for­ward-looking slo­gan “the 1066 town with the 1966 out­look”.

Hast­ings res­i­dents seem to agree with Walling about the joy of the mu­seum. Out­side Jemp­son’s, a town-cen­tre bak­ery and cafe that has “served the com­mu­nity for 75 years”, the views of Louise Cut­ler, 38, were typ­i­cal: “I’ve lived here all my life, so, of course, I know it well. There’s al­ways some­thing go­ing on there.”

At the foot of Brassey Steps, an al­ley named af­ter Lord Brassey, one of the mu­seum’s bene­fac­tors, Stu­art Pace, 44, said the in­sti­tu­tion and its gallery were “lovely”. “It has some great stuff about the town,” he added. The mu­seum’s Na­tive Amer­i­can col­lec­tion might seem out of place but it tells the strange story of one of Hast­ings’s great­est celebri­ties; Grey Owl, a fake Cana­dian chief whose real name was Archie Be­laney.

Coun­cil cuts mean that un­til March the last en­try for a mu­seum visit is at 3.30pm, while on Mon­days and Sun­day morn­ings it is shut.

Else­where, the north-east is the hard­est hit, with a 22% loss in hours. But there are also pock­ets of dam­age in the south aside from Hast­ings. On the Isle of Wight, the Cowes Mar­itime Mu­seum, the Di­nosaur Isle, New­port Ro­man Villa and the Mu­seum of Is­land His­tory have each seen drops in their open­ing times.

“Mu­se­ums are crucial to our shared cul­tural her­itage but they’ve borne the brunt of years of gov­ern­ment cuts,” said Kevin Bren­nan, Labour’s shadow arts min­is­ter. “The gov­ern­ment must prop­erly ad­dress the glar­ing is­sue of lo­cal au­thor­ity cuts to re­gional mu­se­ums. Ev­ery open­ing hour lost makes mu­se­ums more vul­ner­a­ble and less ac­ces­si­ble. Lo­cal mu­se­ums are like cul­tural food banks – along with the­atres and other cul­tural pro­vi­sions. They foster cre­ativ­ity where it’s needed most.”

The pub­li­ca­tion of the find­ings of a gov­ern­ment- com­mis­sioned mu­se­ums review is ex­pected this week. A sub­mis­sion to it by the Mu­se­ums As­so­ci­a­tion claims that gov­ern­ment fig­ures in­di­cate a de­crease in spend­ing on cul­ture in Eng­land of £236m since 2010.

Alamy

The Hast­ings mu­seum’s lo­cal his­tory dis­play, above; Di­nosaur Isle on the Isle of Wight, right.

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