County's museums pioneer partnership
A pioneering strategy aimed at helping Cornwall's museums to work together more effectively has been launched in Truro.
Believed to be the first partnership of its kind in the UK, the move signals a fightback by heritage centres hit by reduced funding as a result of the economic downturn.
Launched at the Royal Cornwall Museum, the initiative will involve around 70 institutions, from established museums with paid staff to voluntary-run heritage centres and historic houses.
Leading the move is a consortium made up of Penlee House in Penzance, the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery.
Penlee director Alison Bevan, who was a member of the project team, explained the need for action arose following a decision by Cornwall Council to cut its contribution to the region's museums. As a result, a working group produced two documents, Maximising Our Impact and Cornwall Museums Strategy 2012-2017, setting out how limited funding can be used to better effect.
Speaking at the launch, Alison said: "Here in Cornwall we have some of the most wonderful heritage anywhere in the world held in our museums. Cornwall's museums have always worked together, to a degree, but until now it has only been an informal relationship.
"This is the first time we have all come together as a team to formulate a formal long-term strategy.
"Working alone, individual museums have achieved remarkable results in recent years, winning regional and national awards and contributing greatly to Cornwall's economic and social wellbeing.
"It is sometimes a real slog to do this in isolation and as a result such excellence has been piecemeal and patchy.
"There is scope for us to do so much more if we work together as a team and this strategic plan will help us to work in partnership to make the whole much greater than the sum of the parts. The hope is to use the strength of these formalised partnerships to use the money we've got to best effect and to attract more funds.
"We want to create a strong network of sustainable organisations right at the heart of Cornwall's rich cultural life, offering memorable and enjoyable experiences for all.
"We also want to show the world that a group of diverse museums, scattered across a long and remote peninsula, can demonstrate excellence and be a nationally recognised model of how museums can best work together for a common purpose."
Cornwall's museums attract more than 1.5 million visitors annually, yet only 14 of the 70 are run by professional staff, the remainder relying on some 2200 volunteers. Maximising Our Impact envisages a five-point plan to: achieve financial sustainability; engage more people; build partnerships with other museums; develop a skilled workforce; and raise the heritage profile of Cornwall.
Royal Cornwall Museum director Hilary Bracegirdle described the move as a "milestone in the way museums are working across Cornwall", while Cornwall Council's portfolio holder for museums, Joan Symons, said: "Museums and galleries will be able to share experience and knowledge more easily and national funders are going to look much more favourably on museums that work together than on individual bids."