At last: where the £100,000 is going at the William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow won the Museum of the Year award in 2013.   The prize was twofold: a significant amount of free PR and marketing which has led to a massive rise in visitors and £100,000.  The prize came after a total refurbishment.

So what happened to the money?  I blogged in June last year and quoted the Leader of the Waltham Forest Council (the owners):

” We’re now deciding what we’ll spend the money on, and I guarantee that it will make a real,tangible difference to the Gallery itself and to the experience of visitors, whether they live in the borough, come as part of school visit or have travelled from another country to explore Morris’ extraordinary vision”

So what happened?   Nothing:  no news on the website, no news in the Council’s free PR paper. Silence.  For six months.  Time enough for a decision perhaps?

So in January I asked both the gallery and the Councillor, Ahsan Khan, who chairs the “Health and Well-being” committee which apparently includes culture.  He replied:

We are planning the spend of the Art Fund prize carefully, to ensure it makes a real difference to the Gallery.  We’ve analysed visitor feedback and are using some of the funds to enhance the visitor experience. This includes replacing some of the glazing
on paintings with museum-grade non-reflective glass. We are aware that the
current glazing prevents effective viewing of the paintings in the Gallery, especially the larger Brangwyn paintings. The worst affected painting, Brangwyn’s Dogana, has already had its glazing replaced and we are seeking quotes for other works. Other suggestions that we are investigating  include – replacing the benches with chairs in the tea room so that families and older people find access easier, more equipment to control the temperature in summer months and a buggy park. 

However we plan to use the majority of the Museum of the Year prize money as match-funding to apply for other grants. This means we can potentially double (or more) the value of the award. The focus for our fundraising activities is the Gallery’s exhibition and
activity programme. This includes our schools, families and young peoples’
programmes, as well as new opportunities for older residents to engage with the
arts (due to launch in 2014).

This programme is crucial to making sure we keep the offer fresh and continue to
encourage local residents to keep coming back for more. We currently
receive Heritage Lottery funding to support this programme, until November 2014.
The Gallery’s core costs (staffing, building upkeep etc) are all funded by the
London Borough of Waltham Forest but if we can attract additional external
funding  we can continue to develop and exceed such a high quality
offer”

So there we have it.   The Gallery has now been nominated for the European Museum of the Year award. (a Council of Europe project, not the EU this time!) It is in illustrious company.  Good luck!

And please go along to the current exhibition of Jeremy Deller last shown at the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale last summer.

 

Local democracy in Walthamstow or will the gambling giants win again?

William Hill Organisation, one of the largest betting and gambling companies in the UK  (excluding the banks of course) want to open a new betting shop in the area.  The local residents signed a petition to oppose. The local council’s planning committee agreed with them and turned down the application.  Predictably William Hill have appealed.

A few months ago Newham Council did the same; they lost on appeal.    The new style betting shops are proliferating across the UK, along with payday lenders.  Gambling Watch UK warns of a generation of younger gambling addicts.  Another report questions their link with problem gamblers.

Will the same happen in Walthamstow?   Here are the points I’ve made arguing against William Hill and supporting the Council.

  1. All of the major political parties are making policy statements to increase the degree of local decision taking in respect to their neighbourhoods.  Whether called decentralisation, community engagement, participatory democracy or the Big Society, the direction of travel is obvious: a greater degree of local direction.  It is quite clear that residents in the area, as well as their elected representatives, do
    not want to lose a retail space nor gain another betting shop in the area.
  2.  Betting shops are no longer the betting shops of old: the shop for the flutter on horse and greyhound racing.  Their main income and rationale is now gambling, more suited to casinos and the controls which apply to casinos.  Fixed Odds Betting Terminals  will be installed by the William Hill Organisation should their appeal be successful. They are aptly described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. These have no place in our neighbourhood which already has an over-supply of gambling/betting outlets.
  3. There are already seven William Hill shops within a little over a mile of this location, including one already in the same road, according to a search on the Organisation’s own website. They cannot argue that they need another to “serve the area”.  There are, of course, even more betting shops in the
    same area managed by their competitors: the residents of the area
    already have enough outlets.  Of course the penetration of betting shops
    in a relatively poorer area of London is a sign, along with the payday lenders and pawn brokers,of the ability of the financial services industry to prey on the weakest.
  4. The location is along the route taken by many young people attending the Waltham Forest College who catch public transport at the Hoe Street/Forest Road crossroads. Putting a betting shop in their path conveys the wrong signal to them.
  5.  Walthamstow, like so many urban centres, is struggling to maintain vibrant and productive high streets and areas. The loss of a retail unit in the cluster of shops around  Hoe Street/Forest Road is an unwelcome step.   The proximity of the William Morris Gallery, now recognised as Museum of the Year 2013, the renovation of Lloyd Park and of the Bell public house into a family-centred pub, are steps in the positive direction for the regeneration of this area.  A betting/gambling shop is not.

Will Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government support local residents, or will he side with big business?

Send your objections, quoting APP/U5930/A/2199214 to teamp1@pins.gsi.gov.uk saying you oppose the appeal by the William Hill Organisation (address of proposed new betting shop is 520/522 Forest Road, Walthamstow).  By midnight 5 August!!!!

The deadline has now passed but still send your objections in (they may be accepted or at least the Planning Inspectorate might record them as too late!)

I am sure that this will not the last time a gambling company will seek to open a new outlet in Waltham Forest so keep your eyes open and be ready to organise!

 

 

 

What would you do with £100,000?

Yes, there is a catch.  Not a windfall of £100,000 for yourself. I mean the £100,000 prize money awarded to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow: the 2013 ArtFund Museum of the Year.

The Gallery is owned by the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The Leader of the Council, Chris Robbins, says, in the local Council free newspaper:

” We’re now deciding what we’ll spend the money on, and I guarantee that it will make a real,tangible difference to the Gallery itself and to the experience of visitors, whether they live in the borough, come as part of school visit or have travelled from another country to explore Morris’ extraordinary vision”

Fine words and indeed credit does go to the Council for reversing their original decision on the future of the Gallery and embarking on its marvellous renovation.

I have a major concern with Councillor Robbins’ statement. It’s that term “we’re”.  Who are the “we”?  Experience across Europe has shown that decisions about the detail of cultural projects are not best handled by politicians. This Gallery owes its current status to the energy of those who campaigned to keep it open.  Surely residents of Walthamstow, and “Morrisians” further afield, should be invited to contribute to and be part of the discussions?

Readers of Private Eye over the last few years have seen examples of less than transparent decisions and accountability by the Council.  We must not let any suspicion of this apply to the £100,000 prize fund.

I suggest that Councillor Robbins arranges a public meeting in the Assembly Hall (with its Morris inscription over the entrance) and calls for open contributions on the use of the money.  I am sure he would attract a large audience and a range of practical and imaginative suggestions.  We know we can fill the Assembly Hall, as local citizens did to help save the EMD Granada cinema.  I am sure ArtFund judges such as historian, and MP, Tristram Hunt would give us their views.  The Friends of the William Morris Gallery have a key role.  A public celebration of the prize and a forward looking debate.

A second stage would be to co-opt as non-voting observers several members of the local community to the appropriate Council committee which will be discussing the practical plans.

A third step would be a regular public updating on the William Morris Gallery website of progress, of options, of why certain proposals have been rejected, of how the money is going.  Openess being the watchword.

Yes I’m biased and declare an interest: a local resident, a member of the ArtFund (good value for money!) and I have many books by and about Morris on my bookshelves.

William Morris was an indefatigable public speaker, taking his views across the country and speaking directly to citizens.  A good model for the Council to adopt now.

Power to the people: from closure threat to Museum of the Year.

A campaign which started local and went global, has finally paid off.  Six years ago Waltham Forest Council planned to close the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.

Now the gallery has won the Museum of the Year 2013, an award worth £100,000, and organised by the ArtFund.  Congratulations are flooding in. They are well deserved.  The renovations have transformed a fusty, dark and quite frankly unappealing building into an informative, bright and attractive survey of Morris and his myriad interests.  The obligatory cafe is a nice touch as well. Many photos on google.

Amongst the plaudits there is, however, a little re-writing of history.  One of the judges, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith is quoted in the ArtFund magazine:

” in the current climate it’s amazing to see a local authority realise the power of art in regenerating a borough”.

Other reports have made a similar point. Fair enough; Waltham Forest Council did provide £1,500,000 towards the work (around 30%) and will run the Gallery.  Good news for all who believe in the important role the arts can play in local well-being.

But it was not always this rosy. Six years ago the Council wished to close the Gallery, merge its priceless contents with a museum in South London and be shot of the whole affair. They wanted to save £65,000.  Unbelievably they had tried to do the same in 1987.

What changed their mind?  A very active campaign which gained world-wide support.  A petition signed by 11,630, demonstrations (it was cold!): citizens actions. An active Friends group was formed in 1987 lobbied.  The Council changed its mind.

Now the new Gallery has attracted over 100,000 visitors in less than a year from its re-opening. The Museum of the Year prize will bring in far more.   So it is congratulations to the local councillors.. for listening to their local citizens.

As well as the standing collection the Gallery has already hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry, David Bailey, modern crafts and in 2014 becomes the first gallery in the UK to host Jeremy Dellers’ current exhibition at the British Pavilion in Venice. That features William Morris rising to hurl Abramovich’s monster yacht into the lagoon.

With the arts in financial trouble in most of Europe it is a little bit of good news on the power of campaigning.   William Morris, socialist, would have been pleased.