The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust in Shropshire has been awarded more than £1.1 million Government funding to help it get back on track after being hit hard by the pandemic, with visitor revenue down by almost £3 million last year. The Trust, a registered charity, saw around 340,000 fewer visitors than expected last year due to restrictions and closures introduced in response to the pandemic. And with 80 per cent of its revenue coming from visitors and the Trust costing £6 million annually to run, bosses said the funding will be a ‘lifeline’.
The funding announced on 2 April 2021 – £1.14 million – is part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help organisations in the arts, culture & heritage sector recover and reopen. It will allow the Trust, which runs 10 individual museums in and around the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, to get back onto an even keel over the next three months as visitors are allowed to slowly return.
More than £300 million has been awarded to thousands of cultural organisations across the country including the Trust, in the latest round of support from the Culture Recovery Fund, the Culture Secretary announced today. Trust boss Nick Ralls said after surviving the most challenging 12 months in its history, the funding news was extremely welcome.
“The last year has been difficult for everyone, and as a tourist attraction and an independent charity, we’ve been hit hard,” said Mr Ralls, Trust Chief Executive. Some of our attractions have been closed for more than 12 months now, and while we have a robust recovery plan in place to ensure each of our 10 museums has a strong future, severely reduced visitor numbers over the last year have left our reserves severely depleted. Given that 80 per cent of our revenue comes from ticket sales and visitor spending, this funding is a lifeline and will help us replace some – but not all – of that lost income, giving us some much-needed stability. This financial boost is not only vital for us, but for the wider community and local tourism economy – the local hotels, cafes and B&Bs that rely on trade from our visitors to survive.”
Mr Ralls revealed that some of the money will be used to install a new lighting system at Blists Hill Victorian Town that will allow the outdoor attraction, which is running at a reduced capacity, to open for longer during the autumn and winter, with an exciting programme of evening events planned for later on in the year. “Being able to offer people the chance to see Blists Hill lit up in the evening with our new lighting will add a new dimension to the special atmosphere people know and love. Culturally, we’re proud custodians of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and we’re one of only 32 World Heritage Sites in the UK. We’re responsible for 35 historic buildings and structures in the Gorge and that the maintenance and keeping these buildings secure comes with considerable costs. There’s a real sense of history as you come through the Gorge, its importance cannot be underestimated and we’re very conscious that we have a duty to our visitors, the region and the nation to ensure we’re able to give people the best experience possible when they are with us – and this funding will ensure we’re allowed to continue to do so.”
The Trust recently announced it would be reopening Blists Hill to visitors at weekends only, kicking off on April 17 – 18, with a special celebration of steam weekend. Tickets need to be pre-booked ahead of time at http://www.ironbridge.org.uk. The ever-popular Furnace Kitchen, Coalbrookdale will also reopen on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for takeaway and outdoor table service from April 16 onwards.
“We can’t wait to welcome people back through our doors and we know our visitors are desperate to get out and about again. Being immersed in culture and heritage lifts the spirits and has an important part to play in the wellbeing recovery of the nation.”
Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced. Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”
Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Investing in a thriving cultural sector at the heart of communities is a vital part of helping the whole country to recover from the pandemic. These grants will help to re-open theatres, concert halls, and museums and will give artists and companies the opportunity to begin making new work. We are grateful to the Government for this support and for recognising the paramount importance of culture to our sense of belonging and identity as individuals and as a society.”
The funding awarded in Round 2 is from a £400 million pot which was held back last year to ensure the Culture Recovery Fund could continue to help organisations in need as the public health picture changed. The funding has been awarded by Arts Council England, as well as Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.