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Councillor, Given Brief to ‘Sort Out’ The Museum, Criticises The Dragon’s Coverage

Guildford Museum

Guildford Museum

In an unsolicited statement Geoff Davis, the lead councillor for economic development, tourism and heritage, says that one of the first tasks is to “sort out” Guildford Museum. Cllr Davis also side-swipes The Guildford Dragon for what he calls our, “various critical articles”.

In the statement, sent yesterday (August 4) the lead councillor at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) laments the drop in attendance at the museum but says that subsidising each attendee by, according to his calculations, over £30 per visit is unreasonable.

He says that the Surrey Archaeological Society (SAS), recently given notice to quit the museum, is being “encouraged to stand on their own two feet” but he is discussing a proposal that they leave their exhibits, some of the most historically important within the museum, behind.

But a spokesperson for the SAS has responded to say that the society already does stand on its own two feet and that: “All of our income goes to further our charitable objectives.”

Cllr Davis’ statement reads: “One of the first tasks given to me by the Executive was to “sort out” the museum, following the two failed lottery [Heritage Lottery Fund] bids.

“In assembling the facts I became most concerned.  For example, annual attendance at the museum has dropped from some 40,000 per annum in the Matthew Alexander days to about 10,000 now.

“GBC is supporting the museum by over £380,000 per annum, which means every attendee benefits by over £30 a head.  I think that is unreasonable.

“Certain basic management steps have been necessary, particularly relating to Surrey Archaeological Society who are being encouraged to stand on their own two feet: they can certainly afford to do that.

“I am in discussions with SAS for them to leave their exhibits in the museum, following their office move.

SAS occupy rooms on the first floor (as viewed) of this side of Castle Arch House.

SAS occupy rooms on the first floor (as viewed) of this side of Castle Arch House.

“A working group has now been formed to consider the whole future of the museum, with a brief to report with a final conclusion to the Executive by early November, following all necessary consultations.

“There are a number of other challenges current, which I am approaching with all due energy.”

Cllr Davis then leaves the subject of the museum to praise the work and capability of his fellow councillors and in particular the council leader, Stephen Mansbridge, before criticising The Guildford Dragon NEWS for “various critical articles”.

“While all this is going on, I have been heartily impressed by my fellow Executive members who are all capable, experienced, and very hard-working.

“Some (particularly on planning and infrastructure at the moment) give huge amounts of time and skill to their tasks.

“Directing all this, we have a most excellent leader in Stephen Mansbridge.  He has a real grip of the current challenges, and constantly impresses me in his role as the GBC ambassador.

“Your [The Guildford Dragon’s] various critical articles are misplaced in my opinion, as they do not recognise the skills and determination in the Executive, and with our highly impressive leader.

“Guildford should be very proud.”

The SAS library an amenity used by many local historians.

The SAS library an amenity used by many local historians.

A spokesperson for the SAS, Emma Corke said in response to Cllr Davis’ statement: “SAS welcomes steps to boost visitor numbers. We are happy to lend our exhibits to help this. Our relationship with the museum has always been symbiotic – we lend them our collections to curate and display as they choose.

The stairs that lead from the museum to the rooms used by the SAS.

The stairs that lead from the museum to the rooms used by the SAS.

“We have always paid whatever rent was demanded for the space we occupy. This is not only the office, but our specialist library, much used not only by our members but also museum staff and the public.

“We can – and do – stand on our own two feet. All of our income goes to further our charitable objectives.”

Today The Guildford Dragon News it has been confirmed that the archaeological society are planning to complete as much as possible of their move out of their rooms in the museum by the end of November, well ahead of the January deadline. It is also understood that estate agents were due to inspect 48 Quarry Street soon, prior to the property being put on the market.

Cllr Caroline Reeves, (Friary & St Nicolas) leader of the Lib Dem Group said: “I am in full agreement with those who have said how important it is to have a museum in Guildford, and it has to be a museum that people want to visit.

“Our current museum desperately needs to be revitalised. We have the opportunity in the town centre masterplan to create a new space for a vibrant, interactive museum that will show the real value of the wonderful pieces that we have – sadly, many unseen for years.

“Given the impact of the on-going cuts to all local authorities, our museum needs to be viable and more self-supporting than the current arrangement, and I’m confident that we will be working with the SAS to keep all the collections safe.”

Martin Giles editor of The Guildford Dragon NEWS commented: “I reject Cllr Davis’ accusation that our ‘various critical articles’ whatever he means by that, are misplaced. We have expressed some critical views in our opinion pieces, which are very clearly labelled as such, but our news articles are objective.

“As a publication we care deeply about Guildford’s heritage and hope that the future of the museum, and all our other historical assets, is in safe hands. Our history belongs to all of us and has a value which cannot be simply expressed in pounds and pence.”

In an official GBC press release issued this morning (August 5), surprisingly quickly after Cllr Davis’ own statement, the lead councillor is quoted as saying: “We are committed to providing an inspiring and wide ranging cultural offering for residents and visitors and have formed a working group to consider the future of Guildford Museum.”

A council spokesperson added: “The group includes finance, legal, property, communications and HR [human resources]. An outside specialist museum consultant will also be included. Cllr Geoff Davis chairs the group, which is led by James Whiteman, director of environment.

“Their brief is to carry out a full review of Guildford Museum, its collections and the Victorian schoolroom, with the key aim to look at a new and improved museum and visitor experience.”

The existing building offers limited space for exhibitions.

The existing building offers limited space for exhibitions.

According to the press release the review will examine the current offering of a traditional academic research museum, expanding its scope to include art, themed displays, virtual displays and a visitor centre for the town.

It will also look at increasing access for everyone, particularly as the current location does not have disabled access. The group will review the use of the museum buildings, which have increased significantly in value in current times. Opportunities at other council owned properties and including potential partners will also be explored.

The council spokesperson added: “We will work with interested parties and the business community and look at the collections within the museum and at the council’s Woking Road storage depot [where the majority of the museum’s artefacts are kept].

“After the review is complete we will ask the public for their views about the possible options for the future.”

An exhibit currently on display indicating that the museum's storage facilities are less than ideal.

An exhibit currently on display indicating that the museum’s storage facilities are less than ideal.

Cllr Gunning (Lab, Stoke) said: “The sorry state of the museum is not news – for over a decade we have been aware of the steady decline in visitors, the poor quality of the display and general environment of the museum.
“Guildford should have a modern museum with a relevant, attractive display. And be located where the public can find it, with full disabled-access, plus a quality café to pull in visitors.
“However, I note  a ‘working group’ has been formed to look at the museum’s operations, but I wonder why no councillors are included. In my opinion they should be.”
Gillian Cameron, secretary of the Guildford Society said: “We welcome Cllr Davis’ decision to establish a group to consider the future of the museum and to work with interested parties.  We are keen to collaborate with him and others, and are considering how best to do this.”
This evening Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) added: “It is a shame that the plans for changing the museum were not discussed with all parties and with the public before this process had started.
“While there may be good intentions, this is a matter that concerns everyone that cares about Guildford’s history and heritage.  We all want to know what changes are proposed and what will happen to the museum and the castle area.
“This has not been discussed with the council. I am waiting for details from Cllr Davis which have been promised, but which I haven’t yet seen. This matter is important, but under our current constitution, it is up the Executive to decide, and no one will have any rights to object. Many of us would like to have more say in this process.”

See also: Past articles on Guildford Museum

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12 Responses to Councillor, Given Brief to ‘Sort Out’ The Museum, Criticises The Dragon’s Coverage

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    August 5, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Its good to find Cllr Davis, as a new councillor, fits in so well with the GBC Executive.

    The purpose of a good local press is to distribute news and sometimes pass opinion on it. The Guildford Dragon does this very well.

    It also provides a platform for local residents and the public to express their opinions. I’m very surprised Cllr Davis doesn’t castigate The Dragon for the readers’ comments too, given the council’s demonstration of openness and their sensitivity to criticism.

  2. Gordon Bridger Reply

    August 5, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Cll Davies is right to be concerned about the fall in visitors to the museum since Matthew Alexander left and I assume that the reasons for this will examined by the working group, as there will be many who would be pleased to enlighten them.

    It will also be important to know the reasons for two failures to attract Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) – a huge amount of time and money seems to have been used to make the bid without success. I would urge them to consult the organisers of “The Spike” who have great success in securing HLF and other funding.

    We have already lost out to Woking in having a centre of preservation of the county’s historical records, now it looks as if they will take over our museum as well. That could be one cost effective solution.

    Gordon Bridger is an hon alderman and former mayor of Guildford.

  3. Mary Bedforth Reply

    August 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Thank goodness for The Dragon. It does not breathe out fire but exhales the oxygen of publicity. That is not wanted by some in the current GBC Executive it seems.

  4. Janette Panton Reply

    August 6, 2015 at 8:11 am

    The Guildford Dragon gets a huge vote of support from me for reporting on topical local issues and giving Guildford residents a voice.

    Guildford Borough Council clearly need to take criticism where it is due and do something to reverse the negativity and the lack of trust a lot of us have in our borough council.

  5. Lisa Wright Reply

    August 6, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I have no idea where the museum is.

    • Dave Middleton Reply

      August 7, 2015 at 11:14 am

      It’s on Quarry Street, right next to Castle Arch.

  6. Chris Fox Reply

    August 6, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Congratulations on Gordon Bridger on his promotion to an honorary freeman.

    Whoops! Well spotted Mr Fox. Apologies for our error, now corrected. Ed.

  7. George Dokimakis Reply

    August 6, 2015 at 10:32 am

    It seems that the GBC Executive are living in a world of their own. They are publicly elected officials that hold the most important public positions.

    They should be inviting further scrutiny and ensuring transparency and openness in all of their affairs. Instead we get self-congratulatory pats in the backs for other members of the Executive (even if they refuse to disassociate with those who have damaged GBC’s reputation) and castigate they few that dare challenge them.

    Being a councillor is an honour and a duty, not a divine right.

    The Dragon is doing an excellent job and should continue to do so.

  8. Brian Holt Reply

    August 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

    The problem is that most of the GBC Executive do not live in Guildford town but it is they who are making the decision about our musuem, important to those of us who are true Guildfordians.

    It seems the Executive have no real interest in the museum and just want to sell it off like a property deal.

    They talk about losing money but what about the money they have wasted when they paid the former chief executive officer while he was sent “on leave” for months and the large pay off he received, reported to be £160,000.

    The Guildford Dragon NEWS’ excellent reporting is the only way most of us know what is going on at Guildford Borough Council.

    • Anna-Marie Davis Reply

      August 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      I agree entirely with Brian Holt. One could also mention the £850,000 wasted on the North Street consultation process that went nowhere and an, as yet undisclosed, amount on Armed Forces Day.

      The value of the buildings may have increased dramatically, most buildings in Guildford have. Is that reason enough to sell of the family silver?

      It is high time the Conservative Executive, mainly non Guildfordians, as Mr Holt notes, stopped thinking of council land and funds as theirs, and rather as something the people of Guildford have trusted them to look after, however ill-advisedly.

      But I am pleased to report that I am noting a sea-change among Guildfordians in the town centre, a closer and smaller community that the in control Ash councillors may realise.

      I am confident their days are numbered. But the issue remains, how much damage are they willing to do to our town in the meantime.

      • Terry Stevenson Reply

        August 13, 2015 at 10:45 am

        What next, Guildford having its own town council, and yet another layer of bureaucracy?

        I am guessing the ‘us and them’ manifesto is all part of the ‘touchy-feely’ politics everyone keeps on referring to when discussing the way local authorities are, or should be.

        As an aside, I read with interest The Dragon’s article about the Seale and Sands parish elections and the difficulties faced when trying to maintain meaningful democracy at that level.

  9. Ben Paton Reply

    August 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    While on the subject of waste the Draft Local Plan should be mentioned. It cost £3.1m to the end of December 2014. Costs to complete will also be material – well in excess of another million.

    Did the decision to go out to public consultation with an unsound Local Plan increase the costs?

    Why hasn’t the leader of the council and the Executive given any apology? Getting it right first time would probably have saved millions.

    Would it have taken extraordinary prescience to get a housing target and a transport plan approved before going out to consultation?

    Was Cllr Mansbridge’s ‘trajectory’ in the public interest?

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