A report into what the public thinks about museums in Kirklees has shown there’s a great deal of support for the threatened Tolson Museum at Moldgreen.
In 2016 Kirklees Council’s Cabinet decided to shut Tolson Museum in Ravensknowle Park and move the Huddersfield collection into a new Huddersfield Museum.
The council is currently working on plans for a new museum in Huddersfield town centre which could be housed in the current library and art gallery building.
A Heritage Lottery-funded survey of 700 people was carried out between July 2020 and January 2021 which the council said showed “enthusiastic support” for a new town centre museum.
However, critics say the questions were “skewed” to favour the town centre museum over Tolson.
The report found that:
- Tolson Museum was the most recognised/visited museum. Some people expressed fond childhood memories of visiting, while some admired the building and easy parking and were keen to see Tolson invested in and developed recognising the need for updated displays and dynamic programming;
- There was very low ‘regular’ use of any Kirklees museum and a belief that displays were static and rarely changed;
- Making a new Huddersfield Museum accessible for everyone was felt to be important but some questioned whether the Piazza location was sufficiently accessible for parking or public transport.
Clr Will Simpson, Cabinet member for culture and greener Kirklees, said: “This feedback shows how important culture and heritage is to our communities, and supports our efforts to put it at the heart of our recovery from Covid-19 and our plans for the regeneration of our borough.
“As well as our work on the new museum and gallery, this engagement will help to inform the development of the draft heritage strategy for Kirklees, plans for the Cultural Heart, the Huddersfield Blueprint, masterplans for existing museum and gallery sites and long-term strategic planning.
“We would like to say a huge thank you to all participants, who gave their time to fill out the survey and talk to us in detail through focus groups and one-to-one sessions. The ideas, enthusiasm, commitment and the desire to work with us in the future is very exciting.”
Clr Alison Munro (Lib Dem, Almondbury), a staunch supporter of Tolson Museum, said: “I found it interesting to note in the report that Tolson is ‘the most recognised/visited museum overall.’
“This was not apparent in the report to Cabinet on November 16 2021 compiled by consultants which stated its footfall was lower than other museums in Kirklees.
“The survey contained in the recent publication had a total of 23 questions. There was only one single question on Tolson Museum and it was fairly negative in its nature.
“Seventeen questions, ie the majority, were based on a new museum for Huddersfield and seemed to be aimed at creating interest, excitement and support for this only.”
Clr Munro said since the decision to close Tolson Museum in 2016 the Cabinet had been “intent on running it down.”
She added: “It could be said they have deliberately restricted its opening times to Saturday and Sunday afternoons only.
“They have starved it of funding which would have enabled it to change its displays to create more interest and encouraged more people to visit.
“They have not helped it to attract national exhibitions or helped it make links with major galleries and museums such as the Tate or the British Museum.
“I wonder just how many young children will want to be dragged off to the town centre? I know my son while growing up would have voted very firmly with his feet against being taken into Huddersfield to do or see anything!
“This is yet another example of a ‘fait accompli’ by this Labour Cabinet and being done to instead of with.”
Clr Munro said the cost of renovating Tolson Museum was £4 million in 2016 and wanted to know how much the new museum would cost and what would happen to items from the Tolson collection which weren’t wanted at the new venue.
She added: “It is a huge concern that the council could possibly be spending needless money on a new museum in the town centre when there is already a perfectly good one located in a park close by with a large car park and overspill and plans for a cycle route to make it even more accessible.”
A second report exploring heritage in North Kirklees and particularly the council-owned Bagshaw Museum in Batley and Oakwell Hall Country Park in Birstall will be published in early 2022.
Further engagement opportunities are planned in the coming years as plans for the new Huddersfield Museum move forward.
Quiz answer! Huddersfield Library & Art Gallery (top left); Bagshaw Museum, Batley (top right); Tolson Museum (bottom left); and Oakwell Hall (bottom right).