Scottish industrial museums in danger!

Posted by Chris Graham on 11th May 2021

Hugh Dougherty reports on the perilous situation facing many of the industrial museums in Scotland, following the pandemic’s dreadful impact.

Scottish industrial museums in danger

Scottish industrial museums in danger! As a member of Industrial Museums Scotland, the Scottish Maritime Museum fears for its future following the impact of Covid. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

The Industrial Museums Scotland (IMS), whose membership includes the Scottish Maritime Museum, The Musuem of Scottish Railways at Bo’ness, Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life and The Maid of the Loch – the last railway-built paddle steamer in the United Kingdom – says that it fears for the future of many of its collections.

IMS gave evidence to the Scottish parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee recently, stressing that visitor figures plummeted to just 37% of the previous year across the Covid lockdown and during limited re-opening periods, and that museums are looking at a similar number drop for 2021/22 which, they say, is unsustainable. 

The museum is home to Scotland’s only heritage tramway. Former Glasgow, single-decker 1017 and the museum are fighting for their futures. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

As a direct consequence of this dramatic fall-off, revenues are down 50% too, and the association is forecasting that a loss of £300,000 for 2020/21 is likely to double in 2021/22, raising serious questions about the viability of re-opening at all. Many of the museums have already carried out redundancy consultations with staff.

IMS told the committee: “Our worry is that further, essential funding for the industrial museum sector will be too little, too late, and that we will be forced to make staff redundant, mothball historic buildings and collections, and cease public engagement. The impact of this on the sector will be irreversible, putting valuable collections at risk. Collections will have to be put into the care of national institutions or councils, where they will be unwanted and unwelcome in a context in which resources are already insufficient.” 

Scottish industrial museums in danger

The massive, winding engine from Cardowan Colliery enjoys pride of place at Summerlee. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We are in regular contact with Museum Galleries Scotland, and provided £4m for the Museums Recovery and Resilience Fund in July 2020, which was topped up with a further £3.1m in December, 2020.”

Lucy Casot, Museum Galleries Scotland chief executive, said: “We are grateful to the Scottish Government for considerable support for museums, however, significant challenges remain. The financial impact of two lost tourist seasons cannot be underestimated, but we would hope that domestic audiences will be desperate to visit their local museums when they re-open.”

Former Great North of Scotland 4-4-0, No.49, Gordon Highlander, is one of the exhibits at the Museum of Scottish Railways. (Pic: Hugh Dougherty)

Emma Halford-Forbes, Industrial Museum Scotland co-ordinator said: “Industrial museums are at risk, and the unique contribution they make to Scottish culture, education and tourism could be lost forever. We await a response to the specific points we raised in our submission to the committee.”

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