Drastic choices revealed in secret Novium talks

C130242-3 Chi Noviuim  phot kate''The Novium. Photograph by Kate Shemilt. C130242-3 ENGSUS00120130220104307
C130242-3 Chi Noviuim phot kate''The Novium. Photograph by Kate Shemilt. C130242-3 ENGSUS00120130220104307

FREE entry and a name change could be among the drastic changes in the pipeline for the Novium – following secret talks over its future.

Using it as a wedding venue, removing the tourist information centre and bringing in a self-service cafe could all be on the cards after the past two years has seen it struggling to attract people from the local area.

The total number of admissions to the publicly-funded Novium in 2013/14 was 9,993 – less than a third of the 32,500 target.

This compares to 12,728 visitors from its opening date in July, 2012, until the end of March, 2013.

“We have listened to our visitors and have been working on ways that would enable us to make the museum free for everyone,” said Cllr Myles Cullen, cabinet member for commercial services at Chichester District Council.

“If the cabinet gives it the go-ahead, we will encourage people to support their local museum by making a donation; using our shop; or even using our new tea and coffee facilities.

“This will make a big difference in helping the museum to go from strength to strength.

“This approach has worked for other museums across the country and so we believe this could work for our museum.”

Cllr Anne Scicluna said Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard had a good ticketing system.

“At the dockyard you buy a ticket and it will last you the whole year. Local people will use that – they get a better deal. I think there are ways of looking at it so locals use the museum more.”

The entry fee stands at £7 for adults and £2.50 for children, with other kinds of ticket available, including a year ticket for an adult 
for £17.50.

The museum’s draft business strategy was discussed at Chichester District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting in July, with the press and public excluded from this section of the meeting.

However, minutes published from the July meeting reveal some of the discussion that took place.

According to minutes, councillors heard there was ‘nothing fundamentally wrong with the museum but barriers to local people using the museum’.

Cllr Peter Clementson said: “I think it has been held back by its name and possibly by the entrance fee and what’s on offer.”

He also suggested dropping the name Novium, as it was ‘unclear for visitors’.

“I think that the Novium is a misleading name,” said Cllr Clementson.

“My fellow councillors don’t necessarily agree with me. I just think it’s misleading – a museum is a museum. I think the compromise will come out as calling it the Chichester Novium Museum.”

He added the problem could soon be rectified and the museum would go from strength to strength, and he praised the building’s design and also the work carried out by the museum’s manager, Cathy Hakes.

Jane Hotchkiss, head of commercial services at Chichester District Council, told the councillors the name came about after a branding presentation to the members of the museum’s project board.

Following a request from the Observer, Chichester District council agreed the strategy would be discussed in public at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Business strategy

A FIVE-year business strategy could boost income and make the £7m Novium more accessible for local people – according to council officers.

At July’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting, councillor Simon Lloyd-Williams suggested the cost of the strategy could be £3.5m over five years, which he described as a ‘difficult figure’.

In response, Jane Hotchkiss, head of commercial services at the council, stressed the Novium was ‘a service that would attract a cost’.

She said the goal of the strategy was to ‘bring more footfall and generate additional income’, with ‘a lot of work to do to get the museum on a sustainable footing’.

Currently, 95 per cent of the museum’s visitors come from outside the Chichester district and visitor numbers have been lower than forecasted.

Plans to make up the loss of the admission income have been suggested by the council.

As a possible money-making venture, it seems the Woolstaplers Room, currently used for exhibitions, could potentially house small weddings.

Museum manager Cathy Hakes said that while space was ‘at a premium’ in the museum, the Novium could be used in conjunction with the Guildhall in Priory Park to provide a potential wedding package along with other providers.

Other ideas include improving the shop and introducing touring exhibitions from some of the national museums, which would be charged for.

Officers at the district council have also suggested encouraging people to make donations.

The tourist information centre, located within the museum, would also expand the services it can offer.

However, speaking at July’s overview and scrutiny meeting, Cllr Michael Woolley said the city council had ‘ambitions’ to move the centre to the Council House at North Street, to ‘allow focus’ for the museum and give more space