Four museums and one arts centre are at risk of closure as a result of local authority funding challenges, warns Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT).

Hampshire County Council is the trust’s largest funder, currently contributing £2.5 million per annum, but under its current budget consultation, it is proposed that this funding will be cut by £600,000 per annum by 2027.

The trust said five venues could begin to close as early as autumn, beginning with Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham, followed by Westbury Manor Museum and Eastleigh Museum early next year, and Curtis Museum and Andover Museum and the Museum of the Iron Age by 2026.

In December 2023, the council agreed separately to transfer operation of Winchester’s Great Hall to the trust as part of a new vision for the city’s historic castle area. Under the terms of this transfer, the trust will incur a further £400,000 grant reduction by 2027 in recognition of the commercial opportunity presented by the transfer.

The trust will also cease to operate Bursledon Windmill in March 2024 following the withdrawal of funding by Eastleigh Borough Council in 2023.

Paul Sapwell, Chief Executive of the trust said it did not want to close any venues it operates, “but faced with substantially reduced local authority funding, we have had no option but to make some very difficult decisions.”

“We intend to mitigate the full effect of the funding challenge through a wider business plan that includes potentially taking on new, more financially sustainable venues, as well as growing existing areas of our business. However, new opportunities and growth cannot fully offset the reduction in council funding currently proposed and some venue closures will therefore also be necessary.”

Hampshire County Council’s consultation does not extend to Westbury Manor Museum, which HCT operates on behalf of Fareham Borough Council. Given the challenging economic climate, the trust approached Fareham Borough Council for financial support for the museum in 2023, however this was declined. The trust now intends to hand back the venue to the council in January 2025.

Sapwell continues: “Subject to Hampshire County Council’s current consultation, we anticipate withdrawing from Ashcroft Arts Centre, Westbury Manor Museum and Eastleigh Museum by early 2025.However, Alton’s Curtis Museum and Andover Museum and the Museum of the Iron Age sit later in the proposed business plan”

“With a £2.5 million project to refurbish the Allen Gallery already underway in Alton, we remain fully committed to high-quality cultural provision in the town. We also enjoy a very positive working relationship with Test Valley Borough Council and are delighted that they have received Levelling Up Funding in the latest round.

“With a three-year window ahead of us, we will work with local partners to find solutions that may enable us to keep these venues in Alton and Andover open, however, without additional funding this will of course be challenging.”

Last year the trust issued similar warnings in response to a proposed cut of “nearly 50%”.

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