Kettering museum future uncertain as building remains structurally unsound
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Kettering’s much-loved award-winning Manor House Museum will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future despite work on the adjacent library and art gallery complex nearing completion.
Surveys of the museum building had shown that the top floor of the 17th century building was structurally unsound and woodworm in the roof timber required treatment.
Staff offices and collections had to be moved downstairs away from the unusable top floor and some ‘betterment’ work has been carried out to the timbers, brickwork and windows.
Kerry Purnell, senior responsible officer for ‘Cornerstone’ which encompasses Kettering Library, Alfred East Art Gallery and the Manor House Museum, has been leading the project for North Northamptonshire Council.
She said: “There has been some betterment work to the roof – woodworm treatment in the timbers. At the moment everything from the top floor has got to be moved. There are some structural issues that need to be resolved.
”We have to make it so it doesn’t get worse.”
As well as problems in the original manor house building, the 1989 extension’s roof has also caused concern.
Ms Purnell said: “The way the Collyweston slate on the 1980s extension, it’s not been done properly. We need to look at all our options. I want to work with museum users about the future use of the museum.
"I’m not saying that the museum will not open. I need to make sure the public and the staff are safe. It could be closed for years. I haven’t ruled out that we couldn’t open at all. We are looking at our options, we are looking to secure funding.”
Dogged by delays due to Covid and supply issues, and nearly a year behind schedule, Kettering’s £4.5m upgraded library and art gallery will be handed over to the council in September.
The Covid pandemic fuelled price hikes for building materials and has resulted in more money being pumped into the newly-renamed Cornerstone, previously the GLaM.
Part-funded with a £3m grant from the government’s Get Building Fund, the refurbishment was made possible after a successful bid through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership.
Original plans had included the Manor House Museum but it soon became apparent that the grant would only only cover work to the Alfred East Art Gallery and Kettering Library.
Closed since the start of lockdown in March 2020, museum staff have been using the time to undertake comprehensive work to ‘understand the collection’ – meticulously reviewing and updating both documentary and digital records.
Meanwhile, while the future of the museum depends on finding further funding, objects from the collection may be housed in the newly-restored library.
Ms Purnell said: “An element of the museum will be available perhaps in the library. We haven’t decided yet because there could be security issues.”
He said: “The survey of the museum indicated extensive work would be needed to make it safe. The walls have begun to swell. Nobody is really sure where to start. Probably what needs to happen is for it to be repurposed.
"There will have to be a business plan and then applying for grants. The finance is going to be a major problem. Arts and culture are not going to be given the most priority. It’s going to be difficult to solve.
"Approximately three museums a week close around the country,
“The value of the Manor House Museum is integral to the heritage of the town. Unless it opens really quickly it will get forgotten and side-lined. It’s a hugely popular resource. It’s approachable but it’s the building that will need money to put it right.”