Regular readers will know how disappointed I am at the neglect of Thanet's local museums by the current Conservative administration of Thanet District Council. Here's a report of how a similar community not far away takes a different approach. Hastings Borough Council was run by Labour until 2004. After a period of the current Conservative administration takes a more enlightened approach to cultural matters than Thanet Leader Sandy Ezekiel and his colleagues. Here's a report from pictured guest blogger Cllr. John Watkins:
"Hastings & St. Leonards has a population of 85,503. Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has fewer rate payers than Thanet population 126,702 (2001), with 32 elected councillors, as opposed to Thanet's 56.
HBC has a cultural policy that has provided an annual budget of £269,000 this year for their museum service staffing. Overall annual revenue cost for the service is £394,000 (this includes internal recharges and capital servicing costs).
This budget funds a Museums Curator, plus an Administrator and other support staff. These HBC employees run the two separate council museums in the town, both of which have free admission to the public and have recorded very high visitor numbers (with the use of an electronic beam counter).
HBC has assisted in the acquisition of a £1.4million grant fund, for the recent refurbishment of the very fine, main Hastings Museum and Art Gallery building.
The capital refurbishment project cost was met by
£977k - Heritage Lottery Fund
£30k - Interreg (for dual language material)
£15k - Friends of the Museum donations
£30k - Magdalen & Lasher Trust
£349k - Hastings Borough Council.
The council at Hastings is also very supportive, in terms of peppercorn rent, rate relief, signage, advertising etc, of the two maritime themed museums on the Rock-a-Nore beach front. The Fishermans Museum and the Shipwreck Heritage Centre are separately run by their own trustees, and also record high visitor numbers with support from the local Council.
These four well run and attractive museums add enormous value to their town's tourism trade. A visit to Hastings should if possible, include Cod and Chips at Maggies Fish and Chip Restaurant, Rock-a-Nore."
It is good to see a Council with less money than Thanet Council able to recognise, support and run museums in a very similar coastal community. No blaming other people and whinging, just getting on with the job. No money wasted on "big events" and burlesque. Instead a real understanding that a community's heritage is priceless, and heritage attracts tourists in the 21st century.