Friday, 8 April 2011

English Heritage is ‘barrier to progress’ at the barracks

Further to the news we reported that English Heritage were set to close Berwick Barracks at weekends, comes this news article from the Berwick Advertiser. Seems English Heritage is not popular with the museums located within the barracks!

The curator of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum at Berwick Barracks has claimed that it and Berwick Museum would be better off without English Heritage on the site.

Billy Foster also told the Advertiser that he would be happy to see English Heritage ‘walk away’ from the barracks.

However, Mr Foster said he fully supported plans to redevelop the barracks area, as long as the KOSB could retain a presence there.

He said: “The future of the barracks is tied with English Heritage’s willingness to invest in it, and they are not. Other than maintenance of the exterior of the buildings they’ve provided nothing for it. The barracks have attracted no funding from them.”

He added: “We want to be part of the future of the barracks because as a regiment the KOSB have been associated with Berwick for 250 years next year and the regiment want that to continue.”

On the current work to look at regeneration of the barracks, Mr Foster said: “We have been working closely with Rob Horne (council regeneration manager) on this and at the moment we are totally in favour of what is happening because we want to be part of it. We want to be part of the regeneration of the barracks.

“We are totally supportive of what the county council and regeneration committee are trying to do and want to be part of it. 

“We realise that our future is in Berwick, as our past has been in Berwick for almost 250 years, and we want to go forward with that.

“We see English Heritage as a barrier to progress at the present moment because they are not prepared to invest in the site and the longer that goes on the worse it is going to get.”

Mr Foster said that the KOSB museum’s tenure at the barracks was ‘tenuous’ and said he feared that if English Heritage or a developer came to them and charged a large rent then the museum would have to leave Berwick.

Mr Foster said: “It all comes down to marketing, and English Heritage do not market the barracks and they are the ones charging at the gate.”

He added: “There was a gentlemen’s agreement that we got 10 per cent of the gate receipts but that has been withdrawn within the last couple of months.

“We are not talking fortunes here, between £1,500 and £1,800 a year, and they’ve even taken that away.

“They are saying they can’t afford it, but our insurance premium is about £3,000 a year and that money from English Heritage was paying some of that.

“We are not taking any money, we exist on donations. Once visitors have paid the entrance fee they are unlikely to put money in a donations box at the museum.”

Mr Foster continued: “English Heritage are charging the admission fee at the gate - for what? They have got nothing on the site, it is made up of the KOSB museum and the town museum.

“There is nothing on the site that English Heritage can say they have here apart from the By Beat of Drum exhibition.

“They are not doing us any favours. If they walked away tomorrow I would be quite happy.”

He added: “If English Heritage were not charging at the gate it would allow us to exist on donations. If we had a donations box at the front door I think we and the town museum would make a lot more money.

Mr Foster said he believed English Heritage was ‘making a big loss’ on the barracks site.

Anne Moore, curator at the Berwick Museum confirmed that a gentlemen’s agreement saw the museum receive 20% of the gate receipts from English Heritage, although she said she believed this would continue for this year but was in doubt after that.

She said: “I think English Heritage have had big budget cuts so are desperately looking at ways they can save money and cut costs.

“It is not a lot of money in the scheme of things, but it makes a difference. You can do things with it that otherwise we would not have the wherewithal to do.”

An English Heritage spokesperson responded: “Bearing in mind the 32 per cent reduction to our government grant and to ensure that we are running Berwick Barracks as efficiently as possible, we had to review this agreement and found it was no longer sustainable. We are adapting to the new circumstances that everyone finds themselves in. 

“We look forward to contin-uing our support for partners in other ways, such our promoting the barracks to visitors and paying for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings. It’s also worth noting that we do not charge the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Museum rent.”

She added: “Until 2006 it cost English Heritage an average of £250,000 per year to maintain the barracks and ramparts and open them to the public seven days a week.

“Now, following reviews of the opening hours and events programme, as well as a contribution from the Ministry of Defence towards the running costs of the barracks and ramparts and a number of other efficiency savings, we make an operating deficit of an average of £11,000 per year.”

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