By Jonny Whitfield
Sunderland City Council have announced that Monkwearmouth Railway Museum could be temporarily closed due to Government budget cuts, although no final decision has yet been made on the future of the museum.
The Grade II* listed building has been one of Wearside’s best loved tourist attractions, but it now receives fewer visitors each year.
Councillor John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said:
“We are considering the temporary closure of Monkwearmouth Station Museum while we look at a number of alternative options for its future. No decision has yet been taken.
“The museum has seen a steady decline in visitor numbers over the last few years and we need to look at how we can continue to preserve and maintain the Grade 2* listed building at the same time as protecting the museum’s collection and historical past.
“At the forefront of our thinking will be looking at new and innovative ways to protect the future of Monkwearmouth Station Museum in the longer term.
“This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly but it is one of the really difficult choices we are having to look at because of government cuts to our budget. The council is continuing to review, remodel and redesign services because of cuts and spending pressures and this has to be seen in the context of £46m cuts to the council’s budget this year.
“This is on top of the £207m we have had taken from our budget since 2010. We need to save an additional £115m over the next four years which means that by 2020 the amount we have to spend on local priorities and council services will be half what we had in 2010.
“Inevitably this means that we need to change the way in which we deliver our services and look at new innovative and commercially viable options.”
Monkwearmouth Railway Station closed to travellers in 1967, before being transformed into a museum in 1973.
Wearside has already felt the force of recent budget cuts, with much of the regional steel industry going into liquidation – in particular Redcar steel, which provided much of the industry for the area.
The charity Friends of Sunderland Museums (FOSUMS) are also worried about the effect the museum’s closure will have on Sunderland’s bid to be City of Culture in 2019.
Neil Sinclair, vice-chairman of FOSUMS, said he was ‘alarmed’ at the prospect of the museum closing but also fears that council funding is the only hope of the museum surviving the cuts.
“We hope that the closure is indeed only temporary, but we very much fear once the council’s contribution is removed from its budget, it will never reappear,” he said.
Another spokesperson from FOSUMS highlighted that they were ‘concerned’ about the possibility of the museum’s closure, and that ‘anything is better than closure’.
The spokesperson suggested that the opening times of the museum could be cut to accommodate the budget cuts.
She said: “We are concerned. [the museum] is a delightful building. Anything is better than closure.
“There must be other options – [the museum] could be open for only three days a week.”