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Friends of Falconer Museum, Forres make renewed call for tourist attraction to be re-opened by Moray Council

By Garry McCartney

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The Friends of the Falconer Museum have long campaigned to keep the facility open.
The Friends of the Falconer Museum have long campaigned to keep the facility open.

A GROUP dedicated to a historic local building is calling for it to be reopened, nearly two years after Moray Council closed it.

The Friends of the Falconer Museum, chaired by Dr John Barrett, have repeatedly challenged the decision to close the 150-year-old institution permanently to save money, including via gathering hundreds of signatures last year.

Chairman of the Friends of the Falconer Museum group, Dr John Barrett.
Chairman of the Friends of the Falconer Museum group, Dr John Barrett.

Dr Barrett said: “The council refused to consider the petition, citing a rule that forbids them within a certain time of a decision being taken. More recently I wrote to Mr McEachan, head of legal and democratic services, asking whether enough time had elapsed for the council to consider the petition, formally requesting that the local authority debate it. The council refuses to consider the document and he suggests I should assemble another petition!”

The Falconer Museum’s original collection was left to Forres in 1856 by Hugh Falconer, a scientific contemporary and friend of Charles Darwin. It now has 50,000 artefacts in storage.

Trustees and custodians Friends of the Falconer Museum were unable to prevent Moray Council from closing the five star visitor attraction in October 2019 after it was included in the local authority’s budget cuts for 2019/20. Dr Barrett has consistently blamed the four local Moray councillor,s who he claims did not stand up for the building.

Councillor George Alexander (Forres, Independent) confirmed he and his colleagues are “extremely unhappy” about the fact that the museum remains closed.

He said: “Dr Barrett refuses to consider any solution, other than the restoration of the full budget, regardless of any financial consideration for other services. The council has recently progressed the history and heritage in Moray through the ‘Morays Great Places’ project. This also forms the basis for some of the work in the Cultural Quarter (Elgin) project in the Moray Growth Deal. The council has also made investments in the Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes in Keith and Elgin, and ‘Castle to Cathedral to Cashmere’ project to demonstrate commitment to our history and heritage. The council has also been investing town centre fund money etc, and we are incorporating town centre work into the Levelling Up Fund bid. However, this is all capital funding - some may help with restoring the external fabric of a building but it cannot be used for revenue to sustain the operation of a museum service.”

Cllr Alexander also points out that, in 2004, Moray Council, with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding, spent more than £353,000 upgrading the museum building and store, so collection items could be stored in environmentally controlled conditions and exhibited in quality display cabinets. He re-iterated that the local authority will honour its obligation to care for the Falconer Museum buildings and artefacts.

He said: “When time allows, officers will return to the task of finding a way of making the exhibitions available to the public by opening the museum. The decision to close was a financial one - the museum has not generated sufficient income for the running of the service and at a time when the council was not financially sustainable. The decision was made to close but to seek an alternative delivery model with a sustainable income stream. The pandemic has got in the way of that. I would ask what suggestions has Dr Barrett come up with to open the museum to the public, other than demanding that all the funding be restored?”

Fellow independent councillor Lorna Creswell added: “There have been residents interested in pursuing alternative models... and other examples can be found across the country. When restrictions ease we will be able to find a way of pulling community interest together to showcase the museum again.”

A local authority spokesperson also confirmed an intention to find an alternative delivery was delayed as staff concentrate on “business support activity associated with economic recovery”.

He said: “Prior to Covid-19 there was some momentum following the Moray Great Places Project, however this has been lost due to the pandemic and development for an alternative delivery model will require capacity not just from the council, but also from partner organisations and individuals who have been impacted. We hope to commence this work early in 2022.”

He added: “The council has committed £28,000 per year for costs associated with the building and care of the collection during its closure. We advised Dr Barrett the petition did not meet the council’s established petitions process. Should the Friends wish to submit a petition they should ensure it is compliant, following the guidance provided to them.”

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