WE must save our museums before it’s too late – that’s the warning from campaigners as figures reveal a sharp decline in visitor numbers in Portsmouth.
Union officials believe the city’s attractions are being managed ‘into decline’ and the future is bleak unless something radical is done to attract bigger crowds.
And a review has been called by councillors over the spiralling numbers.
It comes as a council report shows Southsea Castle had 24,068 fewer visits and Portsmouth Museum were down by 20,037 on the doors between 2014/2015 – a drop of more than 20 per cent.
Across Portsmouth, there’s been 9,146 fewer museum visits, a three per cent plunge despite total numbers reaching more than 300,000. The decrease at the city museum is being blamed on a poor response to community exhibitions – such as Lest We Forget and Tricorn – which are set to be phased out.
But the reason for Southsea Castle’s problems are ‘less clear’ – though visits were better in 2013 as it received publicity through the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum. The castle was also closed for longer this winter due to private events that generated the council cash.
Museum staff have been alarmed by this, they know the council will not continue to fund museums that no-one comes to. Moral is pretty low to be honest.Portsmouth City Council Unite union conveyor Richard White
But Unite union conveyor Richard White, who represents Portsmouth museum staff, has major concerns.
He said: ‘Museum staff have been alarmed by this, they know the council will not continue to fund museums that no-one comes to. Morale is pretty low to be honest. They see this as being a service being managed into decline, they think the writing is on the wall unless things change.
‘Once the temporary exhibitions at the city museum go, there’s just going to be the same stuff there, and things will get worse.’
Lib Dem culture spokesman Lee Hunt said: ‘We need a strategy, we need our attractions to go and get the people visiting our city, and work with all the private museums like the dockyard and the Mary Rose Trust.
‘I told Linda Symes (Tory culture boss) if the numbers at the city museum continue to decline, its viability will be thrown into doubt.’
The council consulted staff earlier this year over plans to hire more volunteers to cut costs and reduce the number of paid seasonal staff.
Mr White said the union has urged the council to secure sponsorship for exhibitions to boost income.
He said: ‘We have got a great museum offer in Portsmouth, and I don’t think we are making the most of it.
‘We have got the America’s Cup coming and it will attract visitors. But once these one-off things are gone, what will keep bringing people back?
But Cllr Symes does not think changes are necessary, and temporary exhibits like Lest We Forget have had to compete with similar events across the city.
She said: ‘Museum visitor numbers go up and down all the time. The city museum numbers will change because we are no longer going to be putting exhibitions on there. The exhibitions will be somewhere else. There’s a different way of delivering services now. All the artwork is now online so people don’t have to visit the city museum to see that.
‘These two attractions (Southsea Castle and Portsmouth Museum) are here for some time to come.
‘A museum is never going to make much money.
She added: ‘I don’t think there needs to be a strategy. The work that the museum service does is sufficient at this time.’
Dr Jane Mee, the council’s museums and visitor services manager, said: ‘Visitor numbers to our museums fluctuate year on year, and the slight drop in this year’s overall figures isn’t anything to be overly concerned about.
‘Some individual sites have had noted larger reductions in visitors, and while there are mitigating factors for these, we will continue to work to identify any opportunities to improve our visitor offering across the city.’