Southend museums being “starved” claims union

SOUTHEND Council has come under fire for not manning its museum service during the school summer holidays.

The Central Museum in Victoria Avenue is currently only open on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Historic Southchurch Hall in Park Lane Southend, a family favourite in the summer months, is closed for the whole of August and the Planetarium, an educational guide to the solar system, remains shut “until further notice”.

A consultation on cutting opening hours at the venues is underway with proposals to cut staffing levels. Staff are said to have been told to reapply for their jobs.

A union has branded the move a loss to the community.

Unison Eastern regional organiser Leon Kilbourn said: “Southend’s museums should be cultural and historical centres at the heart of our community – but instead they’re being starved to death by the council.”

“Any families hoping to spend their summer holidays finding out more about our solar system, our past and so much more will face an expensive trip out of town to keep the kids entertained.”

Mr Kilburn added: “It’s no way to treat staff who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, volunteering for redeployment to get Southend through the crisis.

“Southend Council should abandon this cuts programme and get back to providing quality museums service for local residents and visitors.”

Tony Cox, Conservative group leader, also criticised the cuts. He said: “This doesn’t come as a surprise. It was proposed in the budget and our group rejected it.

“It was a rotten budget creating a rotten service with a rotten outcome.”“There is a consultation with staff but it’s already decided in the budget. It is just going through the process.”

Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment, culture, tourism and planning, said: “Our museums are a fantastic part of our cultural offer in the borough, and in order for residents and visitors to get the best out of them, we are in the process of retraining our staff following an extensive consultation period, so they can offer a greater visitor experience for residents and visitors.

“But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to see or nowhere to go in Southend. Whilst the timing is unfortunate and we apologise for that, it is because we are planning a major new exhibit which necessitates closing off parts of the Central Museum and there have been some unforeseen delays as part of staff restructuring process. T

“his is all being done to make the offer to our residents and visitors more enjoyable with more appropriate opening times based around main visiting times and better exhibits, serviced by fully trained and knowledgeable staff.

“Southend Central Museum is open on Sundays, 11am-4pm, and we will soon be running tours of the Prittlewell Prince exhibition which can be prebooked, so keep an eye on the museum website and social media for details.

“Even now there is still a host of cultural venues open and ready to welcome visitors, including the Beecroft Art Gallery, which is currently hosting the exciting exhibition of ‘Brothers In Art’, by Walter and Harold Steggles, from the East London Group. We also have Prittlewell Priory where the Leverets are housed (part of the Hares about Town event), Southend Pier Museum (open at weekends) and Leigh Heritage Centre, to name a few.

“I hope residents and visitors understand our aim of creating a new experience for them in the Central Museum, and we look forward to welcoming them to the site, with the highly anticipated ‘Wunderkammer’ – Southend’s Cabinet of Curiosities’, set to open to the public in October.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter