What does the future hold?

I guess that’s the question on so many minds these days. What dystopian world do we find ourselves living in, and what does the future hold? Well it won’t come as any surprise that these are pretty much the same questions we are asking ourselves as a small independent charity.

We closed from late March, reopening on reduced hours, 10.30am to 4.30pm, seven days a week on Monday 27th July, initially also offering a slightly reduced service. We furloughed all of our staff when we closed, making what savings we could, and then in early June started to bring them back to work on a phased basis so that we could progress some of our broader strategies and investigate a reopening plan. Of course, there was also a need to apply for a range of emergency funding pots that had become potentially available.

Since early June not only have we managed to secure some vital funds from the National Lottery Emergency Fund, which covers our projected losses in the months of August, September and October, but also from a couple of other charitable funders. Frankly without these generous contributions we’d be looking at a much darker future.

Our revenues are generated from our shop, exhibition gallery, donations and café, all of which feed off visitor numbers. Clearly all virtually zero when we’re closed. We debated long and hard when to reopen, juggling the needs of the business with the demand and the safety of both customers and team members. Of course, no one really knows for sure, but we talked with partners, followed advice from the Association of Independent Museums, https://www.aim-museums.co.uk/ and The National Museums Directors Council, https://www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/

I’m pleased to say that since we reopened we’ve achieved visitor numbers of 55%, retail income of 74% and donations by visitors of 98%, compared with 2019, which is a fabulous result. We’re hoping this continues into September and we’ll monitor this to make sure we continue to make the best decisions we can for the charity.

There are only two parts of the museum not yet open, the temporary exhibition gallery and the Christopher Tower Reference Library. The gallery is closed as we cancelled all of our forthcoming exhibitions, but I’m now working on a plan to reopen, and am meeting next week with the gentleman who I hope will be our reopening exhibition in November.

The library remains closed but should reopen to the public on its traditional Wednesdays and Friday mornings in the first two weeks of October. Our volunteer team are already working in there and other access can be arranged via library@newforestheritage.org.uk The big news is that over the lockdown process we completed the installation of our new flexible shelving and storage systems. This has provided us with nearly ½ kilometre of space, quadrupling what we had previously. Since its completion this has allowed us to start to reorganise the boxes we had stored in a multitude of corners! There is more on the shelves than ever before, access has been greatly increased and we’re working hard to catalogue, digitise and display what we’ve got. It has been a wonderful project contributed to by not only the team here and the volunteers, but also some wonderfully cooperative external contractors, such as Longdown Builders, Rackline Storage Systems and Easton Removal Company (who had the unenviable task of moving everything, keeping it in a specific order and then putting it all back. Thanks Mike and Mark!)

However, whilst the library may have been closed, our research facilities have found themselves very much in demand over lockdown. Our website New Forest Knowledge, https://nfknowledge.org/ has had more traffic than ever, with views over June, July and August up by 94% on the same months in 2019. We’ve recently completed some significant pieces of work on here, so have a look, there’s over 20,000 things to look at and listen to.

Finally, as a team we continue to work through the process of reapplying for Accreditation. Accreditation is an Arts Council scheme, which recognises those museums which care for their visitors, their collections and their governance to the highest of standard. There is a lot to be done ahead of submission in April 2021, but I’m confident we’ll be ready.

The Centre has been a fully accredited museum for many years now, and such accreditation is both a clear recognition of what we do, but also sends a clear message to funders, donors, visitors and volunteers, that we are committed to the highest of standards, and whilst we recognise that ourselves, this is supported by those who hold us to the highest of standards.

In conclusion, yes, it has been a trying and testing time, but I’m delighted to report that the team has pulled together well, we’ve achieved a huge amount, and the future, whilst not secure or clearly laid out, is looking promising. Come on in and see us, and if you can’t and you’d still like to support us, then there’s always our Just Giving page, https://www.justgiving.com/newforestheritage

That’s more than enough from me for the time being. If you would like to discuss anything, do please pop in and see me, or get in touch at giles.gould@newforestheritage.org.uk