Congleton Museum trustees met Andy Kehoe and Lee Beckett of Cheshire East Council to find out why the application for Bradshaw House had been unsuccessful.
Mr. Kehoe said that CEC was very concerned about the future of Bradshaw House because the council is responsible for its care as a listed building.
The reasons he gave for Congleton Museum’s rejection were, in summary:
- The museum had failed to get Heritage Lottery Fund grants for the project in the past, therefore the council considered it was unlikely to be successful again.
- If it were to be successful, it would take too long to acquire the grant and get authorisation for work to start on the building.
- The projections in the museum’s bid showing expected growth in visitor numbers were considered to be over ambitious. The council officers were unable to justify that opinion.
- The museum is currently a small business and rapid expansion is risky. The council does not want Congleton Museum to “break”.
Trustees expressed their disappointment at the decision and challenged the reasons given. They considered none of these points valid and pointed out:
- When the museum first asked HLF for support in 2014 the council was insisting it buy the building at a cost of £350,000. HLF turned the application down, partly because the scheme at that time was considered too large, and partly because it was unwilling to pay a commercial price for a building to a council which was offering negligible support to the ongoing project.
The situation now is quite different. The property is offered on a lease, the overall project is much smaller and informal discussions between the museum and HLF have been positive.
- The building was offered for community use. Any community organisation taking on a listed building which has stood empty for some years will need grant funding to restore it. This is sure to take time. CEC has always known the museum would need to deal with HLF and was fully aware of the timescale involved.
The museum has been trying for five years to find a way to take over Bradshaw House. In that time the building has not been maintained and has remained empty. It does not appear that time has been of the essence until now.
- The figures in the business plan were based on visitor numbers elsewhere, supplied by Museums Development North West, and on a similar case study. They are conservative and considered achievable by experts.
- The museum is currently a small business; it is forced to be, since expansion of any kind within the current premises is impossible. It is usual for museums to provide a cafe, both as an income stream and an attractive facility for visitors. This is not possible in Congleton without new premises.
CEC shows minimal support for the museum. It provides a small grant of just over £5000 a year – a fraction of the support received by the other museums in the area.
The museum was set up from scratch by a team of volunteers and has been run successfully as a charitable trust for 16 years. The trustees have varied backgrounds and areas of expertise and understand the risks involved. They have a realistic view of what can be achieved and have no intention of allowing the museum to “break”. The amount of risk the board is willing to accept is up to its members.
The benefits of allowing Congleton Museum to occupy Bradshaw House remain high, both for the museum and for Congleton, its people and its councils:
- The move would enable the museum to be more sustainable in the long term.
- A museum is a highly appropriate tenant for a listed historical building.
- CEC says it has no current plan for the future of Bradshaw House. If the museum were to take it over, it would be fully restored and cared for the full term of the thirty year lease.
- The museum’s education offering could be increased, with space available for a larger numbers of children, making a visit more cost-effective for schools.
- Bradshaw House is much more visible and more attractive than the museum’s current premises.
- The museum would be able to handle a much larger number of visitors.
- Improved facilities would encourage more visitors to the town, so benefitting the economy:
- There would be plenty of exhibition space, storage, education & research facilities and accommodation for staff and volunteers, as well as room for a cafe and a larger gift shop.
- The museum would be able to accept more artefacts and display more of the collection it already has. This would allow the increasing number of local archaeological finds to remain in the area.
- The museum already works in partnership with national museums, such as the V&A and the British Museum, and would be able to host touring exhibitions.
- There is a garden for outdoor activities and it would be possible to hold conferences and other events.
- It would provide a central venue for the people of Congleton. The town is expanding rapidly and the museum would promote a sense of place and community.
- The museum would be a catalyst to invigorate the Lawton Street Conservation Area .
- The project meets Cheshire East Council’s long term objectives as stated in its corporate plan:
Our local communities are strong and supportive
Cheshire East has a strong and resilient economy
People have the life skills and education they need in order to thrive
Cheshire East is a green and sustainable place
People live well and for longer
The trustees will be asking Cheshire East Council to reconsider its decision and asking the people of Congleton to support an expanded museum.
The trustees are grateful for the support of Congleton’s MP, Fiona Bruce, who made the following statement:
“The development of Congleton Museum moving to Bradshaw House has the potential to provide a much enhanced cultural destination over and above the museum’s current location for the local population and visitors to enjoy. This move would also enhance the opportunities for other visitor attractions in the town to increase their footfall. For these reasons I fully support the museum’s proposal.
Congleton Museum has a really interesting story to tell about the town’s history and Bradshaw House would provide the museum with the location to present not only this but also exhibits from the whole of Cheshire and from national collections.
It would be a wonderful and much needed location for educational visits, family groups and for residents who feel proud of this town, as I do, in an appropriate setting for showcasing the town of Congleton.
I will be writing to the Leader of Cheshire East to look again at the business case presented to them by the museum and also, on behalf of Congleton, asking Cheshire East to support the museum’s bid for Heritage Lottery Funding for the development of Bradshaw House.”
Fiona Bruce MP
Congleton Museum Trustees:
Ian Doughty (chair), Dawn Allen , Anne Gubbins, Linda Hulse, Mike Laurence, Anna Morrison,
Diane Ritherdon, Ron Renshaw, David Topping, Mike Warke.