Down County Museum proposals concern Killyleagh history group.
Killyleagh and District Family History Society are concerned at the reported restructuring proposals for Down County Museum may have wider impacts across the community.
The chairman Nigel Carse has voiced his views on behalf of his group in a letter to Down News (see below).
But a spokesperson for Newry Mourne and Down District Council explained that the Council “is currently in the process of implementing a new staff structure within its Museum’s service. A meeting was hosted in December by Senior Council Officers with stakeholders and several elected representatives to provide an update on this process and to clarify that there will be no reduction in staff head count following the implementation of the Museum’s service structure.
“Staff will be appointed to the Down County Museum’s Service Structure including a full curatorial team supported by a team of museum assistants.
“The Council is committed to the continuous improvement and development of its museums. For Down County Museum, this is demonstrated through the provision of a significant annual operating budget that’s included in the rates estimates process.
“In the next financial year Council plans to invest in an upgrade to the environmental control system within the Governor’s Residence within Down County Museum.
“Collections are also being assessed by specialist conservators, with further visits scheduled in early 2022 by wood conservators and other specialists. Engagement is currently underway with the British Museum to advance the loan of new exhibitions to Down County Museum in 2022.”
The spokesperson added: “A new museum’s website is currently being developed for launch in the coming months to create opportunities for further outreach and engagement with local communities and schools, and to encourage more visitors to Down County Museum. The website will bring the Museum Collections to a wider audience, and will help to enhance visitors’ appreciation of the diverse material culture of the region.
“Over the past five months the Council has invested in a Schools Engagement Programme which has secured museum visits for 655 pupils and teachers from September 2021 to date. This programme of engagement has been particularly important in providing primary school children with an opportunity to re-engage with our local heritage and historic environment during these challenging times.
“Through the work of dedicated museum officers, Down County Museum and Newry & Mourne Museum both provide a high quality visitor experience, receive very positive reviews from visitors, offer excellent education programmes for local school groups and have a strong connection to our local communities. This work contributes to community cohesion, and can provide opportunities to reduce social exclusion and isolation for local residents in our communities.
“The implementation of updated staffing structures for the Council’s Museum Service now provides an unparalleled opportunity to build upon this work, further engagement with stakeholders is planned for early this year and we look forward to working with all our partners to advance the Council’s ambitious and exciting plans for our Museum services.”
Killyleagh Family History Society Expresses Its Concerns.
I am writing on behalf of a section of the local community with representatives spread across the world, through their association with a local family history society, with a branch based in Killyleagh.
We understand that there may be changes in how staff are deployed.
Staff numbers across two museums may remain roughly similar, but in the Down County Museum, what will be the professional abilities be and experience of those staff members – what will the allocation of permanent staff at Downpatrick be, compared with what it was in recent years?
And will they be capable of maintaining a service such as we have enjoyed here since 1980? Will people researching local and family history receive the same quality of support and value of information they may have enjoyed just a few years ago?
Will people be able to talk to someone about making a donation of local historical material for the benefit of all with some confidence that it may be used, as opposed to buried in a store?
Will the excellent facilities be available to out-of-hours societies and groups for meetings, lectures, educational courses, exhibitions, social events etc at an affordable rate as they have been in the past? (as for many charitable societies for example).
More questions can be asked (and should) about the future of our county museum, which is more than the sum of its parts and forms part of the extended community across the whole of this County Down.
Newry museum presently benefits from the fact that it sits in what has by default recently become the administrative centre of the region, which incidentally also covers part of County Armagh.
Newry is deserving of a great museum and there is plenty of local history there to be told and displayed, but lets not forget that the COUNTY TOWN for this region is Downpatrick, which is where the county museum has existed increasingly successfully since 1980 under the stewardship of several very dedicated and able people at the top of their trade.
It has been home to the Lecale Historical Society and a venue for numerous presentations, lectures and social events complimentary to the principal use as a museum, and given the right level of support could become even more successful. The facilities are already there but much under-used in recent times. The restaurant/cafe exemplifies this, and could become a significant attraction with benefits for the whole museum complex and the town in general, extending a (say) ninety minute visit to the museum into a day out with a cultural/historical element, a social occasion including a meal, and potential for the local hospitality industry to benefit from travelling visitors seeking nearby accommodation.
Is it really possible for both these museums – Newry and Down County – to be managed properly by one curator and a shared staff? I seriously doubt it.
Chair, Killyleagh & District Family History Society.