LETTER: Reclaim the spirit of museum

AT LAST, after two years of soul searching, district councillors have acknowledged something Chichester folk twigged within a few weeks – their creation, The Novium in Tower Street, is a white elephant which very few people want to visit.

I was intrigued to read in last week’s Observer, Cllr Cullen’s plans for getting out of the mess, namely making entry free and asking visitors to make a donation instead and providing tea and coffee facilities, ‘an approach’, says Cllr Cullen ‘which has worked for other museums across the country and could work for our museum’.

If only Cllr Cullen and his cohorts had taken the trouble to learn two lessons from history when the new museum was being planned he would have saved his council two years of heartache. History is, after all, what museums are about.

The first of those lessons comes from this very city when, in 1964, our much-missed City Museum, in Little London, opened.

The museum sub-committee decided not to impose charges for the first year in order to see what would happen, and it was found the collecting box brought in sufficient money for the museum to remain free.

The rolling programme of exhibitions ensured visitors kept coming back, donating and spending money in the well-stocked shop.

The second lesson comes from London where, when compulsory museum charges were imposed in the late 1980s, footfall to the V&A fell by two thirds and overall income dropped alarmingly since only one third of the previous numbers were now spending in the shops and cafes.

When the V&A became free again in 2001, visitors flocked back, collecting boxes were filled and sales went up. If people visit a free museum and have had a good time, they will happily put money in the box, spend and come back again.

Hinted at in the same Observer report is that moving the Tourist Information Centre from South Street, where it was on a main trade route, to the said Novuim which no visitors could find, was another mistake.

It certainly was, so I hope the city council’s ambitions of relocating it at the Council House come to fruition.

Cllr Clementson was spot on when he suggested that the building’s name, which tells you absolutely nothing of what it is about, is another part of the problem and that it should be dropped.

Who knows, as well as visitors we might even get the spirit of our old museum back!

Alan H J Green

Stockbridge Road

Chichester