Museum of Cambridge – an update


Some recent developments following the news of the struggles of the Museum

This post follows on from my previous blogpost here. There has been a fair amount of interest in that last blogpost – 400 view in the past 24 hours or so.


Quite a jump for a localised niche blog!

Statement from the Museum of Cambridge’s co-chair of trustees

“The Museum of Cambridge (formerly known as the Cambridge and County Folk Museum) is currently facing significant challenges that threaten its future. It has been at the heart of Cambridge for more than eighty years but, like many small, independent heritage organisations, it is struggling to survive.

Contrary to popular belief, the Museum is not part of the University of Cambridge Museums and it does not receive any public funding for its core operation. It is wholly dependent on discretionary income and while that income continues to dwindle, the daily costs of operation continue to rise.

The Board of Trustees is taking all steps to try and ensure a practical future for the Museum by seeking financial help from funding bodies, businesses and individuals. The Trustees want the Museum to continue to operate as a viable concern and to that end we are undertaking a transition to a Trustee and volunteer led approach which we believe will build a more resilient model of operation.

We are aware that this much-loved museum and its landmark building has been a familiar part of the landscape for many Cambridge residents throughout their lives. We hope that by working closely with significant stakeholders, including the City and County Councils, we can navigate a clear path through a difficult financial situation. We believe there can be a future for the Museum and look forward to working with all our supporters and friends to make sure that our future is sustainable.

We are closing over Christmas and through January to carry out a deep clean and refresh of the Museum and plan to re-open in February. Offers of help would be very welcome. Please see our website ( for current information. The website can also be used to make donations.

If you can help in any way, please contact Sarah Ingram, Chair of Trustees, on

Sarah Ingram, Chair of Trustees
Joe McIntyre, Co-chair of Trustees”

The direct link to their statement is here.

I’ve also been asked to pass on the following:

“The actual post losses are:

  • 1 redundancy (full time museum manager).
  • 1 short term contract not renewed. This was the education post – hopefully we can continue the role in some way.

We still have 3 grant paid positions for our two projects (Tracing Traditions and Capturing Cambridge), one of which is still filled. Two resignations, which we very much regret, leaves 2 posts to fill – hopefully the funders will keep these open.”

You can get a feel for how strong the reaction has been from locals in and around Cambridge through Twitter here. The Cambridge News published an article here – which drew over 20 comments in the first 24 hours. There are a number of comments on their FB page too.

I also got in touch with Cllr Richard Johnson yesterday asking him to make a short statement given that there hadn’t been one from the museum, which he kindly did.

I’m reassured by the above that the Museum itself will not close. The onus is now on the rest of us – the people of the City of Cambridge to step up and be counted.

“Do you still stand by yesterday’s rant?”

This one?

Where I look like a talking rhubarb and custard? Yep. The buck stops with the ministers that imposed the cuts to local government grants without giving councils a means of fairly raising revenue to mitigate the loss of revenue from central government – in particular those services that councils are required by law to provide. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 is one example.

My take is this: Either ministers give local councils the rights and powers that go with the responsibilities or accept that when things go wrong, the buck stops at their desks.

“What of the board of trustees?”

Inevitably a number of questions will need to be put to them as I’ve alluded to earlier, and as a number of people have commented.

I’m not seeking an answer from the trustees four days before Christmas, but at some stage we’ll need to see a timeline of decisions and actions, and perhaps look at lines of accountability too.

The bigger conversation Cambridge needs to have is how we the people communicate with each other and our institutions – I blogged about it here. This in part would help respond to the point Claire Adler makes in her post above.

There’s also a role for the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services and its interfaces with the business communities in Cambridge.

Local charities cannot function through project-specific grants alone

Running costs have got to be met. This not only includes office costs but paying for the managers and administrators – the people who do many of the ‘boring but essential’ tasks required for the successful functioning of any organisation.

One thing I’ve pondered is whether Cambridge should have a central fund that provides for some of that essential administrative and management capacity for local charities so that volunteers and specialist paid staff can get on with what they do best? For example having that fund to cover a pool of paid staff to run the secretarial and treasurer functions for local charities – esp at local meetings. The model is already provided in rural districts through the role of the clerks of town and parish councils. In Cambridgeshire they have their own association.

“I don’t want my donation to be spent on administration – I want it to go to the people in need”

An understandable sentiment – I heard it expressed in a local charity shop last week. The problem is, without a decent administration and bureaucracy behind a charity, money and resources doesn’t get to the people who need it. This was one of the lessons learned from the response to the Tsunami of 2004. One of the things that we as a city could look at with our charities and community groups is what the best method is of covering the essential management and administrative functions.

“The Mayor’s charity administration fund”?

The Mayor of Cambridge is allowed to select two mayoral charities for their annual term of office – see some past and present ones here. But they are charity-specific. Given the number of corporate events that executive councillors are invited to, I can’t help but think their offices could request the corporate organisers in return make a contribution to a new ‘charity administration fund’ (Esp given the fees delegates can be charged for such events) which could provide support in kind to local charities and community groups.  Because if anyone should know about the importance of sound and competent administration, it should be the corporate sector. Therefore fundraising in this manner should be less controversial/difficult than approaching the general public.


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