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Statement - Stoke-on-Trent Museums

Published: Tuesday, 15th February 2022

Stoke-on-Trent Museums budget consultation results in changes...

Commenting on the recent public consultation as the city council sets it’s 2022/23 budget, Cllr Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “Over the course of the budget consultation, we have received a range of representations with respect to our proposals on the future stewardship of our museums. As an administration, we care deeply for the conservation of this city’s heritage as our track record demonstrates, so it has been very important to listen carefully to all of the feedback we have received. 

“At the end of this process, we are confident that our core proposal of creating a single team to steward our two main museums at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) and at Gladstone Pottery Museum is a sound one. The relationship between production and exhibition of ceramics is central to the understanding of the history of the Potteries but it is narrative that is not adequately expressed through our offer at the current time. We are determined to change that. It isn’t right that Gladstone currently has no relevant curatorial expertise and if we do not take steps to develop Gladstone’s offer, the museum will not sustain and rare crafts could wither and die. We are not prepared for that to happen and therefore there has to be change if our museums are to thrive into the future.

“At the same time, over the last few weeks, we have met with a range of key stakeholders - local, regional and national - to discuss our plans, and as a result we are going to make some changes to our original proposals. First, while PMAG will open to the public Wednesday to Sunday, we will also make Tuesdays a special day for schools where pupils can get exclusive access to the exhibitions and associated educational resources and opportunity. At Gladstone, rather than closing our doors to the public through the whole winter, we will seek to open around Christmas time and at February half-term with special themed events aimed at attracting families to visit. We know that recovery from Covid-19 has led a great many heritage and culture venues to reflect on their opening times, but also commit to review. We will do likewise, and as we refresh our offer, and hopefully increase footfall, it may well lead to an opportunity in the future to reopen both venues for longer periods.

“The most substantial feedback was received with respect to the employment and application of curatorial expertise. Frankly, there was much misunderstanding and misrepresentation of our proposals which would have seen the retention of specialist ceramics expertise shared across PMAG and Gladstone. However, through the process has emerged a plan that could see us able to enhance our ceramics curatorial offer in a way that would strengthen our available expertise and reach. This would involve a strong core team, enhanced partnership working with other expert institutions and access to ongoing independent, expert advice. Whilst excited at this prospect, it is important we take the time to get any revised proposals right, not least in discussing these emerging plans with our key stakeholders. Therefore, in the meantime we will pause the proposed changes to the curatorial staffing and remove the budget reduction with a view to bringing back a preferred model in a month or two’s time that I am confident will enhance our current offer

“There is another good reason to pause on this element of the proposals. In the Levelling Up White Paper launched several weeks ago, the Government has committed that its relevant national expert institutions will work with the city to enhance our ceramics heritage offer. We have many ideas to how such a vision could be realised but we need to take time to understand what is on offer and how that will build on our existing assets. We view this as a positive opportunity that builds on the strong culture and heritage narrative the city has developed over the last seven years. It's easy to forget that not so long ago, the city council was considering jettisoning the museums service, and lacked the confidence to bring forward the ambitious cultural plans we have seen unfold since 2016. The possibility that key stakeholders such as Arts Council England, Historic England and Heritage Lottery would highlight the city as a jewel in their crowns, let alone meet together to consider how they could combine forces for the city's cultural and heritage betterment, would have been unthinkable. Yet in seven years, the city has transformed that narrative - and as custodians of it, we value it highly.

“In January, we announced proposals to bring forward a Heritage Congress, the next steps in developing our heritage narrative and protecting the city's many rich heritage assets. The representations with respect to Ford Green Hall and Etruria Industrial Museum suggest that additional emphasis is needed on both to ensure they can remain viable. With that in mind, we have decided that we will freeze the Ford Green Hall grant at the current level for one more year provided the trustees commit to work openly with us so that we can review the current plans and put in expert support to help them secure a sustainable platform as an independent trust. Separately, we will redouble our efforts with Etruria Industrial Museum to secure the lease that it requires and has worked so hard towards, which will allow access to other funding streams. In the meantime, we will hold the grant for the coming year at the current level for Etruria too.

“We cherish our museums and we know the people of Stoke-on-Trent do too. Over recent years, we have created a step change in culture and heritage, and recognise that some of our museums have not kept pace with this and that their current offer isn’t good enough. Footfall is falling and there is an urgent need for renewal. Building on the goodwill that has come forward over recent weeks, the partnership on offer at multiple levels, and our determination to continue to build a city to be proud of, we are busy formulating a wide ranging strategy that will truly make the most of these amazing assets. We are determined to start the process of change and are confident that ultimately our museums will be stronger and more sustainable as a result.”