Despite some funding support, the medium- to long-term issues remain grave for members of Industrial Museums Scotland (IMS; aka Go Industrial). The Job Retention Scheme continues to give breathing room. But, without support at the end of the scheme going in to the winter season, , some of our museums will close permanently, staff will be made redundant and charities will have to be wound up. These actions will destroy public trust and be felt keenly by the communities around each museum.
IMS has welcomed emergency grant funding made available by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) and the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). These grants will provide vital, immediate support to independent museums across Scotland and the UK. However, given the anticipated length of lockdown, and the ongoing impact on national and international tourism, these grants are likely to provide only a short-term solution. Without further direct intervention of the Scottish Government and other major funders we are facing the large-scale meltdown of the nation’s independent cultural sector.
Museums hold collections in trust for society and our museums make up 11 of 50 collections Recognised as being of National Significance by the Scottish Government. Our museums employ over 200 people and contribute over £9m to the Scottish economy. Each year they welcome 900k visitors and 45k school pupils. Our museums are key employers and contributors to the communities in which they are located. WE must avoid layoffs, redundancies and mothballing of sites if we are to maintain the trust of our communities and visitors as well as support the tourism economy to recover.
Independent museums are a significant part of Scotland’s culture and heritage offer, a key draw for visitors to Scotland.
At local level, independent museums can also help rebuild communities post Covid-19 by continuing with the countless health and well-being community initiatives they support, from men’s sheds, creative projects and youth councils through to expansive volunteer programmes that are the backbone of community-based museums.
While we appreciate that these are unprecedented times and priority should be on the health and safety of staff and visitors, we need to start planning for the future. We earnestly hope that all our members will survive the immediate impact of Covid-19 – but our thoughts have already turned to recovery. We foresee difficult times ahead for independent museums with cashflow projections being impossible to predict. The costs of being able to safely open our buildings to staff and museums to the public are unexpected and unbudgeted with many museums questioning whether it will be viable to open at all in 2020-21. We suggest that support may well be needed for most as far out as the 2022/23 financial year.
Our growing concern is that a bail out for the museum sector will come too late to be of use. That it will come after we have been forced to make staff redundant, mothball historic buildings and collections, and eek out an existence until that start of the 2021 season. The impact of this on the sector will be irreversible: putting collections at risk; endangering historic buildings; and, most importantly, decimating staff, destroying team dynamics and ending careers. Collections will be put in to the care of National and local authority collections, using up vital resources at an already difficult time. We ardently suggest that a bail out would be no more costly than redundancies, mothballing and having to rebuild the museum sector in 2021.
Our aim is to ensure that our museums continue in the multifaceted roles they had at the turn of the year: caring for Nationally Significant collections, delivering community health and wellbeing, providing worthwhile employment and volunteering opportunities, and supporting the tourism sector.