(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/31; via Pam Green; Photo: The gatehouse at Nottingham Castle. The site has been forced to close, despite a three-year, multimillion-pound renovation. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy.)
Rising costs have led to staff redundancies and curtailed opening hours as nine out of 10 sites fear they could close permanently
Theatres, museums, castles and other heritage sites are making staff redundant, turning down the heating, shutting rooms to the public and closing early.
The findings come from research that shows nine in 10 such sites across the UK now fear for their future.
The alarming findings reveal that 84% are having to slash costs to survive. The survey, conducted by OnePoll, was commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance, specialists for the heritage sector. It involved 500 “decision makers” within UK heritage organisations, including museums, galleries, theatres, hotels, castles and stately homes.
“Nine in 10 heritage leaders are really concerned about their organisation’s future,” said Faith Kitchen of Ecclesiastical Insurance. “Many heritage organisations – not just one or two – will be at risk of closure in the next few years if costs continue to rise. That’s pretty shocking and sad.”
Almost half of those questioned said they were having to make staff redundant with almost as many reducing their opening hours. Amid rising fuel and energy prices, they were limiting rooms that were open and heated (42%) and restricting public access by opening on fewer days (39%). They were also renegotiating contracts with existing suppliers (45%), which will no doubt take its toll on those businesses.
Some heritage sites have already closed, including Nottingham castle, whose trust confirmed in November that it was “saddened and hugely disappointed” to be closing, but visitors were “significantly below” the 300,000 a year projected after a three-year, £33m renovation.
“That, to me, really stands out because normally – in any other economic time – to have that refurbishment, you would then expect that to be a really successful aspect for the local community,” said Kitchen. “But because of the cost of living, the community aren’t able to support it in terms of visitors. The whole landscape is different post-pandemic.”
Other closures in 2022 include Eastleigh Museum in Hampshire. On its website, Paul Sapwell, chief executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, states: “We are unfortunately not in a financial position to support staffing the museum and front-of-house running costs with the venue in its current form, as revenue from the existing shop and cafe is not sufficient to support the operations.”