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Judges' Lodgings Museum Needs £100,000 a year to stay open, campaign group reveals

John Freeman

The Friends of the Judges' Lodgings group, who are trying to save the Lancashire County Council-run museum on Lancaster's Castle Hill from closure, has cautioned they need to find £100,000 a year to to keep it open, if they were to run it.

Open Monday to Saturday, the Judges' Lodgings Museum is located in a Grade I listed building on Castle Hill. It's Lancaster’s oldest town house, originally home to witch hunter Thomas Covell, Keeper of Lancaster Castle and  between 1776 and 1975, was home for for judges visiting the Assize Court at nearby Lancaster Castle. Today (until September), it's home to a stunning collection of Gillow furniture, fine art and the Museum of Childhood exploring toys and games from the 18th century to the present.

As we previously reported, the museum is, sadly, one of five across Lancashire earmarked for closure as the County Council tried to save money in the face of swingeing reductions in government funding for council services, which also affect the future of library services, youth centres and more.

In March, the County Council began inviting bids to run Lancashire's museums and libraries - and the Friends' group has begun to make theirs.

The museum - recently given a big thumbs up in the Lancaster Guardian's "Lancashire Recommends" column - was given a stay of execution until September in the hope that a new means to keep it open could be found.

The impending closure comes just as Lancaster City Council's Cabinet has discussed proposals to modernise the City Museum in Market Square, but also close the Cottage Museum and Maritime Museum, making for a grim potential future for the City's cultural offering.

Nick Norman Wilkinson would love to hear
from anyone who can help keep the Judges'
Lodgings Museum open.In a short statement to the Friends Facebook group, Nick Norman Wilkinson, Vice-Chair Friends of the Judges' Lodgings gave an update on their bid to keep the Judges Lodges open to the public.

"As I'm sure many of you know the Friends Group have expressed an interest in running the museum in the future," he notes. "We have now been provided with the information and application form  [to make a bid to run the Museum] by the County Council with a closing date of 2nd August 2016.

"A small group has been working hard to develop the application form. This includes looking at the current way the museum operates and trying to identify money making opportunities to help support the museum.

"Lots of ideas are being explored ranging from tours of the building through to restaurants, cafes and improved educational facilities.

"We've had an initial meeting with the County Council and although County are sticking by their line that there is no money to support the museum in the future, it did feel like a positive meeting!

"The key at this stage is the money," Norman highlights. "To keep the place open we are looking for a minimum budget of circa £100,000 per annum.

"Obviously, we want to go further than just keep the place open," he continues. "We have ambitions for major change and improvement - but, first things first, we need the money to secure the existing building and the collections for Lancaster.

"We are exploring bids to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council, but we can't take these forward until after the County Council have selected a 'preferred partner' to run the museum. A date for this hasn't been confirmed by the Council but we envisage it will be early autumn this year (fingers crossed it is us!)."

Norman added that the Friends group are exploring working with other interested parties - they don't see the bid process as a competition.

"It's more a collaboration of local groups," he explained, "to see if we can keep this amazing building and its collections open to the public."

• The Judges' Lodgings is open 10 - 4.00 weekdays, 12 noon - 4.00pm Saturdays. Opening time information here on the Lancashire County Council web site (which to be honest, makes little effort to promote the Museum). Admission - Adults £3.00 | Concessions £2.00 | Accompanied children free

• If you want more information or fancy getting involved in the Friends' project, message Norman via Facebook. If you just want to support the project please join the Friends of the Judges' Lodgings 'physical' (as well as Facebook) group - applications are available from the Judges' Lodgings museum, or message Norman and he will email one to you

The Friends of the Judges' Lodgings Facebook Group