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Rowan Brown, CEO, Museums Northumberland

At the February meeting of the Civic Society we welcomed Rowan Brown CEO of Museums Northumberland (MN) who gave an excellent illustrated presentation on the background and organisation of the MN and its vision for the future though Rowan stressed expecting to hear the actual plans for the Berwick Museum and Art Gallery was a little premature!

Museums Northumberland is run by The Woodhorn Charitable Trust a charity providing the museum’s service for Northumberland. It raises funds from Grants awarded from bodies e.g. The Arts Council and money raised through its museums. There are 4 museums and two historic sites within which there is a vast range of subjects including Arts and Archaeology, Natural, industrial and Social History.

Museums are no longer just the buildings of yesteryear holding artefacts in glass showcases but dynamic environments reaching out to people of all ages and backgrounds in their communities. An important role is a collaboration and liaison with partners, an example being the project of the Union Chain Bridge which supports learning and cultural engagement across national boundaries. Rowan also emphasised the impact of art on individuals’ well-being, giving an example of the work done through photography with substance abusers.

The educational role is an important function of the Museums. Rowan told us of work done in local schools to increase pupils’ confidence in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), firmly believing that if a child is not introduced to such subjects in their early years they will be disadvantaged in later life.

Of great interest to the audience was the vision Museums Northumberland had for the Berwick Museum with its national treasure The Burrell Collection bequeathed to the town with the proviso that it should remain in situ. Rowan spoke passionately about her desire to achieve a modern museum in Berwick, with environmentally friendly facilities, offering good access and serving visitors’ needs and showcasing art, archaeology and the natural history and built environment around. Here the lack of funding was the key factor in forwarding any plans. Rowan pointed out that the Museum in the Barracks has no conveniences, nor cafe, that make visitors linger and help generate income. Currently, the Museum is closed in the winter months and it is housed in a rented English Heritage site.

She would like the Museum to be a core part of Berwick culture, contributing a valuable service to the Town and County, generating its own income and working with local people of all ages and backgrounds as in the scheme to form Community Advisory Panels determining future acquisitions, exhibitions and projects. However, the serious lack of funding means that despite Rowan continuing to assess various sites and ideas, no plans can be published to achieve this aim.

Rowan allowed plenty of time for the many questions the audience had. We thanked her for the way she listened to our frustrations with good humour and honesty which was much appreciated.

Sandra Y Gann Feb/23