Museums are earmarked as community warm spaces – but may not afford their own heating bills 7 Sep 2022

Several councils are looking at using public buildings, including museums, as part of networks of community warm spaces, as more than one in four adults say they plan to keep their heating off all winter in response to the energy crisis. Birmingham, Bristol, Gateshead and at least nine Scottish councils, including Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen are constructing plans. However, museums themselves are at risk of having to reduce opening hours because of sharp increases in energy bills. MA Director Sharon Heal told The Guardian that museums including ‘big, significant, city-wide institutions' “can only be safe warm spaces if we have sustainable funding. We are getting concerned calls almost every day from institutions saying their anticipated energy bills are five times what they were last year.” Meanwhile the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions says that some museums are already losing money because of the cost of living crisis in other ways: “those attractions in rural areas are seeing clear evidence of a fall in the number of visitors coming by car, especially families, due to the rise of fuel prices.”

Some museums have gone public over the extent of the expected impact of direct bills: 

  • Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery has raised its admission to £15 to cover a £138% increase in its fuel bill.
  • Bills have nearly quadrupled at Catalyst Science Discovery Centre and Museum in Widnes, Cheshire from £9.7k to £44k.
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is expecting a 230% increase to £484k next year, jeopardising its previous plans for spending on environmental sustainability. Sky News
  • Bills at the Lowry theatre and gallery complex in Manchester will triple to a figure exceeding £1m, or more than its entire ACE grant. Guardian
  • Jewish Museum Director Frances Jeens expects an overall increase of costs of around £120k within the year, exacerbated by the needs of its Victorian building and temperature controls for a Designated Outstanding collection, which requires energy use even when no-one is in the building. Museums Journal

MA Policy Manager Alistair Brown added “without additional government intervention, organisations will have to make difficult decisions about whether to close for the winter, cut opening hours, or cut other areas of activity simply in order to afford their energy bills. We want to see concerted action from government – as we saw during the Covid crisis – to help reduce the sudden shock of these huge bills.” Times (council plans for warm networks), Guardian, Museums Journal