£1.6 million Heritage Lottery Fund bid could transform Ely Museum, councillors told

Ely Museum.

Ely Museum. - Credit: Archant

Councillors got their first indication of what to expect if a £1.6 million bid for lottery funding by Ely Museum is successful.

Curator Elie Hughes addressed the asset development committee of East Cambs District Council explaining what 2018 could bring.

The fund would allow the development of plans for submission in August 2018, in attempt to release £1.6 million in funding.

She said an architect and other professionals had been hired to assist in drawing up the plans, which could be reported back to the council in February.

The plans involve extending the existing building upwards. This new floor would house the back-of-house systems as well as providing an educational facility.

The curator said the main building would be refurbished by reconfiguring the ground floor, replacing the current glass entrance, restoring the windows, highlighting architectural features and remodelling the garden.

“The new galleries introduced would focus on the history of the fens including their drainage,” she said.

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“Upstairs there would be information on trades, farming, the jail and history up to the 20th century.”

The museum would also act as a ‘heritage hub’, to help visitors find out about the area and signpost them to other attractions in the area.

Ms Hughes said the plans were being built up and consultation with various local groups was being done, to help influence the design.

An activity plan was also being created and aimed to reach out to other local locations. These would be included in a substantial business case ready for submission.

She said the next steps would involve going back to the Heritage Lottery Fund, after raising match funding during the spring, with an application.

“Then there will be a waiting period through to December for an answer,” she said.

It was hoped that, all being well, work could start in January 2019.

Councillor Bill Hunt reminded the committee that the council was the freeholder of the museum and had responsibility for the major structure of the building. The council also awarded funding to the museum and clearly had to safeguard the taxpayers’ money.

“The wonderful work done by the museum was recognised and the committee would try to be as helpful as possible,” he said.

Councillor Lis Every, chairman of the museum trustees, said that there was a real partnership with the City of Ely Council, which was a major contributor.

Councillor Mathew Shuter noted that museums generally were struggling and wanted to know if people paid to enter and if there was a ‘Plan B’ if the funding bid failed. The curator explained that a charge was made for entry, to help cover running costs, but the rate was not high as it did not wish to make this a barrier to people wanting to visit.

The plans being drawn up would stand the museum in good stead and, if the major funding submission was unsuccessful, the museum would look to make smaller grant bids to enable some work to be completed.

The museum was confident that the visitor numbers forecast could be achieved but if they should drop off then the situation would be reviewed.