Idea of closing Novium Museum dismissed as a ‘grave error’

Tim Peake exhibition launch at The Novium, Chichester. Pic Steve Robards  SR1636452 SUS-161213-164145001
Tim Peake exhibition launch at The Novium, Chichester. Pic Steve Robards SR1636452 SUS-161213-164145001

Closing Chichester’s Novium Museum would be a ‘grave error’ according to one Tory councillor.

The attraction in Tower Street is heavily subsidised by Chichester District Council, which has been examining several different options for its future over the past few years to make savings.

C130242-1 Chi Noviuim  phot kate''The Novium. Photograph by Kate Shemilt. C130242-1 ENGSUS00120130220104318

C130242-1 Chi Noviuim phot kate''The Novium. Photograph by Kate Shemilt. C130242-1 ENGSUS00120130220104318

One of these was to invite other organisations to run the museum but this appears to have been discounted due to a lack of interest, while another was to set up a charitable trust.

Instead the council is set to keep the management of the Novium in-house and implement income-generating proposals suggested by its new manager.

Pam Dignum told members of the overview and scrutiny committee last Tuesday closure was not on the table as the museum was ‘regarded as an asset’ for Chichester.

However Simon Lloyd-Williams proposed a motion that they ‘sell the museum to whoever will buy it’.

He explained: “The problem with the Novium is it falls between two stalls. It’s too small to be a county or West Sussex museum, but it’s too big for just Chichester.”

He added: “We are wasting significant amounts of money on this museum over many years and I do not see how we can justify to the people we represent that we continue spending and it’s vast amounts of money on this museum on the hopes and wishes of some kind of future strategy which we do not know will work.”

However his motion was not seconded and fell.

The future options for the Novium are due to be discussed by cabinet members in early June.

However members of the scrutiny and overview committee requested the report come before them first.

This follows work by a task and finish group to take an in-depth look at the options.

Nigel Galloway, a member of the group, said: “It would be appalling in my view if Chichester did not have a museum and we should persevere with what we have got and improve it.

“There were grave mistakes made by former council when it was built - we did not have a cafe and restaurant on the top floor with those amazing views of the cathedral to generate income and also to attract events that could be held there.

“A lot of mistakes were made including that sky high admission price when it opened which meant that people did not go back there once they had been there the first time and we should try and persevere and rectify these mistakes and generate income and I have got every confidence in the new manager.

“I think it would be a grave error for this city to close the Novium.”

Late last year Stephanie Thorndyke was named as the new manager of the museum, having previously worked at the V&A in London.

Cllr Dignum outlined some of the proposed ideas including a larger scale cafe, rebranding and improving signage, removing visuals from the front window to open up views into the attraction, reconfiguration of the shop and tourist information centre as well as increased toddler activities.

Contactless donation points could be introduced, the wedding packages available at the Guildhall in Priory Park could be extended, while the museum would also increase its focus on the friends group, applying for grants and commercial sponsorship.

She said: “We must put our trust in a revised and energised business plan with the option of wider cultural partnership in the future.”

The issue was raised again by Cllr Lloyd-Williams at Tuesday’s Full Council, where he asked if the option of selling the museum for commercial or residential development would be considered by cabinet.

Tony Dignum, leader of the council, said: “The answer to the question is no and the council has been examining the options for the museum since I became leader.”

Mr Lloyd-Williams responded: “How much money does the leader think we should be pouring into this bottomless pit to keep it going?”

Mr Dignum described how the old museum cost between £300,000 and £400,000 each year to run and the Novium’s net support cost was around £600,000 per annum.

He said: “I think that’s reasonable value as it’s part of the cultural strategy.”