For the past five years, Wellingborough Museum has hosted countless free events and exhibitions and provided a meeting place for local groups and societies.
Despite the success of the popular venue, Wellingborough Council is threatening to slash its £26,600 funding grant down to £10,000.
Museum bosses say the move would almost certainly result in its closure within the next three years as there would not be enough money in the long-term to pay for the building’s increasing gas and electricity bills.
Keen to point out that the Alfred East Gallery and Manor House Museum in Kettering, and the Guild Hall in Northampton cost their respective local authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds to run, Robert Wharton, chairman of the trustees of the museum, said: “Wellingborough is getting its museum on the cheap. The town is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the county so the need for a museum is paramount.
“Wellingborough also does not have a tourist information centre and we have more or less been doing that role at no cost to the council.”
The proposed cuts are part of a change to the way funding is given out by the council, which will also now see cash handed out for services, such as heritage, rather than grants to specific individual organisations like Wellingborough Museum.
The museum, which is mainly run by its more than 70 volunteers and attracts 30,000 visitors a year, could be one of the hardest hit funding applicants, resulting in the almost certain loss of countless community events and exhibitions hosted there and the museum cafe which is well attended.
Over the next few weeks alone, a children’s painting and crafts day, a photographic exhibition and a huge Remembrance exhibition and event are all due to take place – all for free.
Regular visitor Ken Murdin, 88, of Highfield Road, said: “I go there most Saturday mornings. They have so many visitors and they have so many good displays and good activities.
“It would be a lot of money to take away from the venue in one go. I think they would be making a big mistake, especially because they have so many volunteers, and it would be a big loss to the town.
“I think it is the jewel in the crown of Wellingborough and the council should realise that.”
Wellingborough resident, Vi Newbold, 71, is also a regular visitor. She said: “It means an awful lot to me because it is somewhere to socialise. I have met some nice people there, and when the children come in with the schools they always seem to enjoy themselves.”
The venue also plays host to many local groups and societies. Currently about 3,000 reels of film owned by the Northamptonshire Film Archive and a library belonging to the Northamptonshire Family History Society, which holds the key to countless local family trees, are being stored there.
Members of Wellingborough’s Model Railway Association are also creating a model exhibition of Midland Road Station at the museum.
Group member Lesley Foster said: “I think what the council has proposed to do is disgusting. I don’t think they realise what a superb facility the museum is.
“It would be a massive loss to the community because we would lose all the history of Wellingborough and you can’t afford to do that because it’s too precious – you leave nothing for the generations that come after you.”
Ian Nunney, the museum’s archaeologist and only paid member of staff, said his job would almost certainly be at risk.
He said the first thing anyone from the museum knew about the proposed cuts was when they read it in the resources committee agenda a few weeks ago.
Mr Nunney said: “We have had no contact from the council on this issue, all we have ever wanted is for a representative of the council to talk to us. We feel very disappointed.”
Members of the council’s resources committee debated the issue at a meeting last week. Rather than approving the recommendation to agree the funding cut, they have asked for the issue to be looked at again before a ﬁnal decision is made.
The working group responsible for making the recommendations was expected to meet again this afternoon to deliberate the issue once more.
Cllr Barry Graves, deputy leader of the council, said: “We have no desire to see the museum close and we understand that it plays an important role in the community.
“Heritage is a priority, which is why it’s on the list of services being considered for grants funding. However, the reality is that at the moment there is less money to go round.
“We appreciate it is a very difficult time for voluntary organisations, so we would be happy to meet with the museum and discuss if there are ways to help their money go further. It is important to note that no decisions have been made yet and the position on grants funding will become clearer following this afternoon’s meeting.”