Many communities have a small museum, something that everybody gets taken to as a child, that seems to have a tiny and sometimes random collection. These places are some of the best ways to learn about social history and are rapidly heading towards extinction with the continued impacts of the coronavirus crisis. A lot of them receive little to no government funding, rely on volunteer staff to run them, and survive mainly on admissions fees or donations from visitors. In this article, I’ll explain why they are all well worth a visit and their significance to local communities.
The faces of most countries have changed significantly throughout their lifetimes. From cobbled streets and thatched rooves, and taking 300 years to sail to the English Channel, we now have skyscrapers, housing estates, supermarkets, car dealerships around every corner. It’s healthy to change – but some of these developments are poorly thought out or simply don’t consider that they might be getting rid of something of real historical or cultural significance. Old buildings, artefacts, photographs and record books are the connections that communities have to their industrial and cultural pasts – it’s great that we can go and see pieces of history at big, national museums. But one of the most effective ways to connect with history, especially a history that means something to you, is to go and see the places and things your parents, their parents and their parents lived and worked around. After all, it’s your history.
Independent museums are often concerned with saving pieces of cultural significance that might otherwise be lost. If you read my article on the decline of railways, you’ll know that there are volunteers up and down the country devoting their time and skills for free to save fantastic pieces of engineering from the scrap heap. A lot of these have lost almost all their 2020 operating days, and look set to lose at least half of 2021 as well. Those that slip through the cracks of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, or the funds don’t reach them in time, will possibly have to cease operations or sell their assets to survive. That means a lot of communities will lose their only connections to their local heritage, and the tourism value of these communities will decline with their loss, further harming local economies.
Independent museums are also an engaging way of preserving at-risk or historically significant buildings for future visitors. Many local museums were founded by enterprising Victorians who wanted to give something back to their local communities – as such, they take advantage of interesting pieces of architecture that had no other use in their town, or occupied grandiose purpose-built spaces that have become modern centrepieces of their home towns. If there’s one you like near you, consider making a donation or arranging some volunteering if you would like to try it out. They would love the help!