Volunteers fear review into Windsor museum could spell its end

CAMPAIGNERS fear the council could be eyeing the closure for Windsor’s museum because of coronavirus impacts.

In a report on the council’s service operation plans – which will be presented to cabinet members on Thursday (July 30) – it proposes to close the Windsor and Royal Borough museum in the Guildhall as a ‘large number’ of staff and volunteers are shielding and the tourist market has ‘disappeared’.

Fears has been circulating that the museum and the tourist information office – which has been closed due to Covid-19 – may remain shut which lead to a petition being set up protesting this possibility.

The petition was created by Jo Underwood and has, so far, garnered nearly 500 signatures.

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Speaking to the Observer, councillor Samantha Rayner (Conservative: Eton and Castle), lead member for Windsor and leisure services, said the museum is currently ‘under review’ and no decision has been made on how the museum will operate in the future.

She said: “We’re having a think about and a review of the museum.

“I know the museum is hugely valued by Royal Borough residents and we are completely indebted with the Friends of the Museum.

“What we’re looking at is trying to see how the museum could look like in the future and what it could be – but we haven’t come to any decisions.

“It might stay as it is, we just don’t know – but as we’re coming out Covid-19, it’s an opportunity to look at things and see what people want in the future, what’s the best use of resources we have, and can it be delivered in a different or supplementary way.”

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She added: “As well as Covid-19 and the digital offer, we also have an incredible financial pressure – which I hope we’ve been quite open about – with all those things, we feel it’s in the best interest of everyone to look at things and review them – but mindful that we do value the museum.”

Len Nash, chair of the Friends of the RBWM (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead) Museum – a charity that supports the museum – criticised the council for sending a ‘mixed’ message on promoting Windsor’s history to the staycation crowd – yet eyes at closing the museum.

He said: “The closure proposal is, of course, a result of the financial situation. I’m not privy to the running costs but I do know that the museum’s income offsets them to a significant degree.

“If the museum does close, costs will not disappear. For example, the collection would still need to be managed and conserved in an appropriate building.”

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He added: “The museum should be heavily promoted as an asset to the town as part of its tourist strategy not simply discarded as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to save a little money.”

Mr Nash also said the report was ‘inaccurate’ when it came to staff and volunteers shielding, as, to his knowledge, no staff and a very small number of volunteers were shielding.

Cllr Rayner said she didn’t know where that information came from as she didn’t write the report – but to her understanding some volunteers were shielding.

She added that she acknowledged why people would interpret the paper as the service closing – but stressed no decision has been made where she will give details at the virtual cabinet meeting.

Mr Nash said: “When the Queen opened the Museum in 2011, she expressed her wish that it should remain permanently open for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.”

The petition can be viewed here: https://petitions.rbwm.gov.uk/museum/

Royal Borough Observer | News WIndsor