Kirklees museums collections to be reviewed

Museums across Kirklees are to have their collections “rationalised” as part of a new streamlined policy.

Thursday, 20th February 2020, 9:57 am
The Huddersfield Blueprint. The view of what is now the Piazza, showing most of the shopping centre demolished and new landscaping down to Queen Street. A modern extension has been added to Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery.
The Huddersfield Blueprint. The view of what is now the Piazza, showing most of the shopping centre demolished and new landscaping down to Queen Street. A modern extension has been added to Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery.

It follows decades of “excessive” collecting that has led to storage problems amid funding cuts and reduced curatorial expertise.

Kirklees Council is set to review its collections and development policy (CDP) to ensure best quality and to make it relevant to the sites it manages: Oakwell Hall in Birstall, Bagshaw Museum in Batley, Tolson Museum in Huddersfield, and Huddersfield Art Gallery.

It says future collecting targets are informed by what it describes as “the ongoing development of the vision for a new Huddersfield museum and art gallery offer” as part of the £250m Huddersfield Blueprint project.

The CDP review – the first since 2012 – will outline a policy setting out why the council collects, what it does and doesn’t collect, and how it manages its collections effectively “through acquisition, review, significance assessment, rationalisation and disposal.”

Items or collections considered no longer relevant, of poor quality or that the museums service is unable to manage effectively will be disposed of, usually by transfer to other museums.

A report to the council’s decision-making Cabinet says the museums service faces several challenges including reduced resources, reduced curatorial expertise for most collection areas, gaps in documentation dating back decades, and inadequate display conditions.

It says there is “full recognition of capacity problems caused by over-collecting decades ago, with a new focus on collections rationalisation”.

It adds: “Over the past century, up until a decade ago, collecting has at times been excessive.

“This has resulted in some outstanding and diverse material. Future collecting will be selective and focused on gaps and areas of weakness.

“Future collecting targets are informed by Culture Kirklees and the ongoing development of the vision for a new Huddersfield museum and gallery offer as part of the Huddersfield Blueprint, and the development of masterplans for each museum site.”

As collections are managed as a single unit for the whole of Kirklees the CDP no longer looks at collections development on a site-by-site basis.

However despite no longer having a museum in Dewsbury – following the closure of Dewsbury Museum in December 2016 – the CDP recognises the importance of continuing to acquire material “relevant to the communities of North Kirklees”.

Erica Amende, secretary of Spen Valley Civic Society, said there remained concern in North Kirklees over the contents of museums such as Red House in Gomersal, which was closed by Kirklees Council two years ago.

She said she understood its collections were being stored in a warehouse.

“Our concern is that further ‘rationalisation’ of the council’s collection could magnify this process and result in the irretrievable loss of items that may not be relevant to Huddersfield’s history, but are central to villages, industries or social conditions in other parts of the borough.”

She urged the council to ensure “meaningful participation” from its citizens when deciding what to keep and what to discard.

“There are many societies and individuals in Kirklees who have detailed knowledge about its culture and heritage, who need to be consulted and listened to, to assist council officers improve our ‘legacy’ to future generations.

“We’d also urge council members and officers to give greater recognition to the economic benefits from maximising our area’s history, instead of regarding historical sites and artefacts as liabilities.”