As someone who has worked in the museum and heritage sector, I am extremely concerned about the 50% reduction in local council funding to the museum, art gallery and Flag Fen Archaeological Site.
It mentions in the budget that the Conservatives voted through last month, that 50% cuts are required, but that there is also the need to increase commercial opportunity at these sites.
However, it is very difficult to create commercial opportunity in the sector if footfall and public participation is reduced due to decreases in opening hours.These reduced opening hours are almost certain to happen now the Conservatives have voted for such proposals.
Now that this is almost inevitable, we need to think carefully about how and when we open these sites and ensure we prioritise school holidays and weekends, while also retaining staff who can ensure we deliver on those open days.
None of this is desirable and we would prefer a fully staffed and a fully open museum, art gallery and Flag Fen. But this is the situation we find ourselves in.
I know from practice that to hold excellent exhibitions, educational projects and displays that it takes a number of key staff and much time to develop and prepare such programmes. We discovered Bronze Age log boats several years ago at Must Farm. This is the most important Bronze Age archaeological area in Northern Europe.
The museum and Flag Fen site have not had the investment needed to exhibit these ‘log boats’ and we risk losing these amazing artefacts, found on our doorstep. These artefacts belong to and are from our city. If we do not act quickly and invest in our cultural and heritage sector, then those artefacts will be lost to the people of Peterborough forever.
Flag Fen is a hugely important archaeological site that would be as highly regarded as Stonehenge, if it were made of stone.
As a city and aspiring cultural capital, we should be looking to enhance the finds at Must Farm, at a site dedicated to the Bronze Age finds in the city centre. We need to invest in something like the Jorvick Viking Centre in York that brings in huge numbers of visitors every year into its city.
Our museum and art gallery also need investment and development to flourish. If you cut staff and hours you lose dedicated professionals who have spent time developing exhibits and exhibitions.
Following a conversation with the chair of the Peterborough Museum Society, we discussed the need for museum and heritage sites in this city to have an independent board of trustees that can leverage funding from arts and heritage organisations and develop commercial potential, but we agreed, you also need some form of public funding.
We also discussed opening the museum out, creating an entrance from Bourges Boulevard into the museum, making it more accessible, as well as further extensions to the building that could help develop the exhibits, collections and displays.
The University of Cambridge, commenting on these cuts to our cultural sector, said these ‘proposed budget cuts will have nothing less than a devastating impact on the museum and its staffing, quelling Peterborough’s ambition to become a leading cultural destination, including the City of Culture in 2029-30’.
Our cathedral’s presence in the heritage sector in this city is also powerful. The Tower Top Tours and guided tours are a gift to both residents and visitors.
The illuminations this winter on the cathedral have been a delight to see and we hope there will more events in the summer months.
A carefully constructed programme from the cathedral that aligns with the ambitions of other tourist destinations would surely make Peterborough a top visitor destination in the eastern region.
This could all happen. Labour, the Greens and Liberal Democrats have that vision for the city of Peterborough and will speak up for it where we can.
We know and understand that as a university city, and as a city to our current residents and future visitors, we need to become a city of ambition in the next few years. A City of Culture.
It is only this Conservative-led council and Conservative government-led cuts to our city that are preventing us from reaching those ambitions.