From Association of Independent Museums April 2002 Magazine
Visitors to museums, all over the country are in some confusion since the Government's much-publicised new policy of making a small number of national museums mostly in London, free of charge. Misunderstandings have had a particularly bad effect on independent museums -which receive no regular Government or Local Authority funding.
Here is the background. There are three major categories, of museum in the UK -national museums. Local authority run museums, and independent museums, The Labour Party has long cherished a situation in which all museums, are free to the public This could of course only apply to those over which it had any authority, i.e. those which were Government funded. Most local authority-run museums, are already free to the public This, Autumn, after much negotiation, the Government has finally introduced free entry to the national museums, and their offshoots, which the Government funds directly.
The museums which are now free that come into this category are: Imperial War Museum; Victoria & Albert Museum; Natural History Museum; The Science Museum; National Maritime Museum; National Railway Museum, York; Royal Armouries, Leeds, and Fort Nelson; Museum of London, Museum of Science and Industry in ,Manchester and National Museum and Galleries on Merseyside.
More than half the museums, in the UK are independent, however. Most are run as charitable trusts and have to charge entry to raise income to support themselves. They receive no or very little reglar funding from Government sources. Independent museums are angry that the Government has, made no effort to explain to the public that not all museums can be free.
The independent museums movement celebrates 25 years in 2002. During that time these independents have been responsible for rescuing and caring for parts of our heritage that local-authority and national museums were failing to respond to. This includes, especially, industrial heritage, buildings heritage and important archaeological sites, Many of these museums sprang up from a desire in different communities to ensure the preservation of important parts of their local history. Local people were pleased to support them, and still do.
It is an important fact that over the last 25 years the revolution in museum management and methods of interpretation has been spearheaded by the independent museums. Local authority museums, and to some extent, even the nationals, had to run to catch up. Today the picture is more even as other museums have taken on board these innovations, but it is interesting that many local authorities are currently considering the benefits of changing their museum administration into charitable trusts!
On your doorstep, a unique project which has grown and developed to safeguard and interpret your heritage -and all without Government help.
[Editors Note: We at Wandle Industrial Museum are extremely fortunate in the funding we receive from the London Borough of Merton, both in annual grant, and the rent free premises at Vestry Hall. This support enables us to be actively considering the abolition of entry charges for our remaining period of occupation there, but this debate is fundamental to our site at Ravensbury Mill.]