Impact of the Foot and Mouth Outbreak on Museums
1. The Area Museums Councils, the Museums
Association, the Association of Independent Museums, and Resource:
The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries have been collaborating
to share information on how the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak
is impacting on museums in rural areas. While museums are but
part of a bigger picture we are concerned that there is a danger
that their situation and the longer-term implications for the
tourism industry needs to be made evident, given how important
heritage attractions are in the total tourism business.
2. Museums that have been affected fall
into three broad categories: those in the countryside; those in
market towns; and those on the urban fringe within a close distance
of exclusion zones.
3. There are 1,800 Registered Museums in
the UK of which slightly more than half are independent museums;
registered educational charities which receive little or no public
subsidy and rely on admission income, retail and catering to sustain
4. They include significant regional institutions
such as Beamish: The North of England Open Air Museum, the Weald
and Downland Museum, West Sussex, Ironbridge Gorge Museum, the
Almond Valley Heritage Trust, West Lothian, Kilmartin House, Argyll,
and Bodelwyddan Castle Trust in North Wales. One fifth of the
Designated Museums (those English museums recognised by central
government as having pre-eminent collections) are independent
museums, and have been to a greater or lesser extent affected
by the outbreak.
5. The majority of museums, however, like
80 per cent of all tourism businesses, employ less than 10 people.
Many run wholly or substantially on voluntary effort. They nonetheless
make a significant contribution to the regional tourism industry.
Like all rural tourist attractions, they are deeply rooted in
their local communities and provide employment opportunities as
well as a measure of community focus. While all have the potential
to be seriously affected by the epidemic, the independent museums
face the following additional difficulties:
Because they include the function
of preserving heritage assets they carry higher overheads that
enable them to care for collections and make them available to
They need to retain specialist staff.
It is not possible to engage a curator or museum education officer
"off the shelf" so if specialist staff are made redundant
they may be lost to the business permanently. Re-recruitment costs
alone could have serious implications for a small business.
This means that they invariably operate
on smaller margins than other tourist attractions and therefore
any substantial and sustained reduction in visitor numbers places
them at greater risk of insolvency and permanent closure.
They do not have the cushion of substantial
financial reserves or the guarantee that comes with regular public
subsidy. Nor are they part of larger organisations like local
authorities, or national organisations such as the National Trust
and English Heritage that have the ability to maintain cash-flow,
and off-set losses, at their rural properties with additional
business at urban sites.
Educational provision, especially
to visiting schools, makes up a large part of the business, especially
in the first part of the season. Thus they may have limited potential
to compensate for losses early in the season by marketing and
promotion in the second half of the season, by which time the
epidemic will hopefully have ended.
Most rural museums, even where they
have some paid staff, depend heavily on volunteers. These are
drawn from among the very farming and rural communities which
are currently experiencing the business and personal anxieties
resulting from FMD. This close integration with the community
no doubt contributed to the extreme caution about opening in February
and March on the part of many rural museums. Where they are now
open, it may take some time before general confidence has reached
the level where volunteers feel able to resume their former levels
6. We estimate that UK rural and countryside
museums that would normally have opened in March lost a total
of around £2 million in revenue during that month as a result
of remaining closed, as well as incurring a total of at least
£500,000 costs on sites where precautionary measures had
to be taken in respect of livestock holdings. These museums normally
generate about 30 per cent of their total annual revenue in April
and May. The current crisisand especially earlier official
advice to keep out of the countrysidehas in many cases
seriously damaged their potential for profitable operation for
the current season, and most have very limited financial reserves.
7. While our immediate concerns have been
for independent museums, we also remain aware that many local
authority museums sustained heavy losses in terms of expected
income during February and March. While not at risk of insolvency
per se, local authority museum services are not statutory,
and poor income performance during 2001-02 may ultimately force
further budget cuts in services that are generally everywhere
subject to strong financial pressures.
8. For both independent and local authority
museums the most important immediate issue is marketing and PR
support to win back visitors and income lost during the initial
period. In most cases museums do not have funds available to embark
on serious remedial marketing on their own account: marketing
budgets having already been substantially spentabortivelyon
early season marketing and on events that have had to be cancelled.
9. There are some encouraging indications
that in many cases the level of visits over the Easter period
has been higher than had at one stage been feared. The Area Museums
Councils will nevertheless continue to monitor the situation for
all museums closely on a monthly basis.