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Museum Funding in the North of England

National Railway Museum

Tuesday 11th June 2013

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has today spoken about the importance of supporting the cultural heritage of Northern England following news that the National Railway Museum in York may face closure.

The Science Museum Group (SMG), the parent company of the National Railway Museum, as well as the National Media Museum in Bradford and Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, said this week that a further 10% cut in the next round of Government spending proposals would leave it with “little choice” but to close one of the museums.

The Archbishop’s comments follow reports underlining the growing economic divide and health inequalities between people living in the North and the South of England. The Archbishop said that individuals deserved access to decent services regardless of where they lived.

Dr Sentamu said:

“I was shocked to hear of the cuts that our museums are facing. It is simply incredible that we are now considering cutting back on funding which benefits the whole community – investment which not only helps to educate future generations, but which also gives them a sense of their cultural heritage and identity.

“I know from my own experience as a local resident, and as an Ambassador for Tourism in York, that the National Railway Museum is one of the leading attractions in the whole country. It brings great enjoyment and pleasure to people across the age spectrum, as well as contributing greatly to our wellbeing as a city and the local economy.  

“We are not alone in facing such difficulties. In Manchester and Bradford there are proposed cuts to the Museum of Science and Industry and the National Media Museum – also thriving attractions. We need to recognise that our cultural heritage is an important part of our country’s history. A country which forgets its heritage becomes senile.

“Increasingly it seems there is a growing economic divide between the North and the South. Too often we are seeing communities across the North of England bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. We need to see a level playing field. Whether we are looking at transport investment, education, employment, health or about where our children and grandchildren learn about what made our cities the fantastic places they are today, we need to put wellbeing at the centre. Everyone deserves the opportunity to blossom and flourish, regardless of where they were born.

“We need to put fairness back at the heart of our policymaking. The Church has a unique role serving the poor and vulnerable at a grassroots level – it is a privilege to be able to stand with the needy and serve them, but it is also a great tragedy. We need to raise our voices when we see unfairness or inequality – we need to rediscover the springs of solidarity and together be the change we want to see.

“From my time being Sponsor of the Fairness Commission in York, I know we have great prosperity, but also great poverty in our city. The Foodbank, run by a local church, has given food parcels to over 1000 people since November – and two more Foodbanks are due to open in the coming months. We see growing unemployment and some people not getting a living wage when they do work. 6 out of 10 families living in poverty in the UK have at least one adult in work – this is about rediscovering fairness and ensuring none are left behind.

“But poverty should not just be measured in what you earn, it should also be measured in your physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing. Of course, these things may often go hand in hand, but what we need is a holistic approach to developing and nurturing healthy and cohesive societies.

“When you see museums closing and libraries having to cut staff, you have to ask yourself, who is benefitting from this? Are we happier and healthier as a society if we become more isolated and less interested in our neighbour and our shared heritage?

“Surely we pay our taxes for a reason. What are our priorities as a nation? I would argue we need to see investment in police if we want safer communities; investment in doctors and nurses if we want better healthcare; investment in teachers and books if we want better education; and we need to invest in art and heritage if we want well-rounded well-informed citizens that understand their history. It should not be an either-or scenario, it should be about considering what helps the growth and cohesion of our country, and making that a priority.

 “Our decisions about where we go need to be informed and inspired from where we have come from. Let us celebrate the diversity that makes our nation great, as well as the shared bonds that make us human.

“If we are going to say that museums cannot charge people to come through the door – which is the current Government policy, and to my mind a wonderful principle we should all want to embrace – then we have to ensure that the grant funding being allocated is fair. Otherwise our great libraries of learning will be lost forever.” 

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