Saturday, 17 November 2012

Guest Blog - ONE MUSEUM- ONE BARNET by Gerrard Rootes

By Gerrard Rootes,
Barnet Council closed Church Farmhouse Museum in 2011. The closure of the Museum had nothing to do with the cuts imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. Barnet proposed reducing the Museum’s staffing and opening hours (which would have made it unviable) when Mike Freer was still Leader of the Council.

The government’s- admittedly appalling- cuts were simply cited in an attempt to justify something the local Tories had wanted to do for years- though, naturally, no mention was made of it in their last manifesto. Protests against the closure were made by staff, the Friends of the Museum, visitors young and old, local societies, national museum and heritage organizations, trade unions, and the general public, both within and without the Borough. The results of a ludicrously  brief ‘public consultation’ (held over the Christmas holidays!) showed that virtually all respondents wanted to keep the Museum. A petition against the closure was signed by people, from all over the country, with an understanding of the importance of history. A proposal by local societies to form a trust to run the Museum was given little encouragement. Labour and Lib Dem councillors proposed motions against the closure, but, despite the reservations privately expressed by some Tory councillors, their  consciences proved robust enough to allow them to vote with the leadership  and the Museum was shut.
Video of Gerrard Roots on the day of the closure of Church Farm Museum
The savings made by shutting Church Farm have been paltry  (even given the inflated and inaccurate figures of running costs issued by Barnet last year). Barnet’s hopes of making a quick buck out of selling a Grade II* Listed 17th century building in the middle of a conservation area have proved illusory (as anyone outside the intellectual wasteland of Barnet’s Cabinet could have foreseen). Nevertheless, Barnet decided that the Museum collection must be disposed of. Some(mainly local) material was kept for the Borough’s Local Studies Collection, some given to other museums (including Barnet Museum, itself under threat), and the rest sent to auction. In response to protests about the sale Cllr Robert Rams made a bad situation (of his own creation) even worse by announcing that those who had given objects to Church Farm could claim them back: confusion was compounded. The material sold was not ‘of no value’ or mere ‘decoration’, as those distinguished social historians Cllrs Cornelius and Rams opined, but an interesting collection on the history of domestic life, built up over many years, which illuminated the story of Church Farm and, which, in turn was enhanced by being displayed in the most important historic building in its area. The building was always the Museum’s most important exhibit. Frankly, it makes no difference whether the collection was sold or given away to other institutions. The essential thing, for Rams and his chums, was that the collection should be dispersed in such a way that no future administration- or any other outside organization- could reunite it with the building. Barnet’s barbarians would rather keep Church Farm empty and rotting (at a cost of more than £2500.00 a month) than reinstate a much-loved institution, which over the years gave pleasure and instruction to hundreds of thousands of visitors. The empty building now, whether their conceit allows them to see it or not, stands as monument to the philistinism and incompetence of Barnet’s Conservatives.
A plan decided in advance, but not announced in any manifesto. A plan claimed to be a necessary response to cuts in government funding, but in reality the product of a market-obsessed ideology. A plan opposed by most of those whom it will affect. A plan to which there are reasonable alternatives, all ignored.  A plan that  even its proponents,  at the eleventh hour, seem uncertain of how to implement. A plan designed to make it virtually impossible for any future, more enlightened administration  to significantly change. It sounds familiar. With One Barnet, the Tories are about to do to the whole Borough what they did with Church Farm: ruin it. There  was a chance, on 6 November, to have stopped the One Barnet juggernaut, had all councillors supported the Labour motion of no confidence in the Conservative administration. Those rank-and-file Tories who couldn’t bring themselves to oppose the closure of Church Farm out of conscience, might have voted against One Barnet out of sheer self-interest, as, under One Barnet, those councillors outside the Cabinet will have even less influence than they do now.  They might have, but, of course, they didn’t. (Even Cllr Brian Coleman, who recently published an- admittedly, barely coherent- attack on One Barnet, merely abstained.) Now, all the rest of us in Barnet must again suffer the consequences.
Gerrard Roots
Born in Ebbw Vale in 1952, Gerrard attended the universities of Cambridge and Exeter, and William & Mary College in Virginia USA. After working at Exeter Museum, Gerrard was Curator of Church Farmhouse Museum from 1979 until its closure in March 2011. He is  married with two children, and live in Hendon. 
Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye

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