Monday, 29 November 2021

Museum planning to end years of losses

Museum planning to end years of losses

THE River & Rowing Museum in Henley hopes to wipe out its debts in three years’ time.

The venue has lost an average of £300,000 per year over the past decade and this has been made worse by the lack of visitors during the coronavirus pandemic when it was closed.

It recently received permission from South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, to convert space currently used for education into office space.

This would be rented out to companies and provide a reliable source of income for the museum in Mill Meadows.

The proposal was criticised by Henley mayor Barry Wood and the former head of learning at the museum Christina Parker.

They said this would reduce the educational offering of the museum, which is a registered charity, and make it a less attractive as a venue.

Interim director Louise Wymer said the space was “surplus” and the additional income would be reinvested in the operation and would help the museum be more self-reliant.

She said: “We are really proud of the education provision we have offered in the past and we will continue to offer. This was never about stopping that provision, just using the space differently.

“We want to utilise the space to get income and operate without having the massive deficit we’ve had for all these years. On average over the last 10 years, it is over £300,000, so if you take that back over time it is quite substantial.

“We’re not even talking about running at a profit here but we have to make sure we cover our costs.

“We have an endowment from the museum foundation and the purpose of that is to protect the building.

“The endowment has historically been used to cover losses, which means we have not done as much work on the building.”

In its planning application, the museum said it hoped to let the space to a local architectural practice.

Ms Wymer said negotiations with the company and other interested parties were continuing.

The museum received a grant of £152,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund after income fell by 60 per cent compared with last year as a result of the pandemic.

Ms Wymer said some maintenance projects had already been completed.

The barrier at the car park, which had been faulty for a year and stopped working at the end of January, was recently replaced. The old decking area has also been replaced. These projects cost more £100,000.

Ms Wymer added: “The new decking area means visitors can sit outside with a coffee and enjoy the amazing view, which helps to make us more viable.

“Car parking charges were introduced last August and it is all part of overcoming the deficit. The new barriers also allow for contactless payments.

“We are really confident that with the measures we are putting forward, we can reach our goal of being cost neutral in three years.

“We want to make sure we are achieving the best economic result while providing the best offer for the community as well.”

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