Like most organisations Bath Preservation Trust has been hit very hard by the coronavirus crisis, which has had an immediate and lasting effect on the organisation. BPT closed its museums on 17 March, which meant an immediate loss of 90 per cent of our income.
An emergency team of trustees and staff prioritised a continuation of the planning and advocacy work of the Trust: the care and safety of our museum buildings and collections; the provision of online educational outreach; the initiating of fundraising and the seeking of grants; together with finance, personnel and governance, all carried out by a small temporary skeleton team.
We have used the furlough scheme heavily, and we have been successful in securing some of the grants we have applied for; at time of writing we are waiting to hear whether we have received National Heritage Lottery Fund Emergency funding. We have reviewed all spending and looked how the Trust can still aim to emerge from the crisis. Whatever happens, our resources have been severely depleted just keeping going.
Throughout the lockdown, the core advocacy and planning related work of the Trust has continued with staff working from home and with Zoom committee meetings, and we are committed to keep this going. Planning and listed building applications have not ceased coming forward and we wish to continue both to support householders with advice and also to contribute to the planning process via our expert volunteer panel. Some of the government’s announcements for planning liberalisations may be welcome, but we will always strive within the planning system to champion the integrity and authenticity of the historic environment in a way that is also responsive to change.
For our museums it has been harder. Our – and others’ – digital offers have been a small window on our work during lockdown but heritage and museums are about real objects in authentic spaces. Whether this is exemplified by a John Wood building such as the Circus, or John Wood’s actual drawing instruments with which he may have drawn the Circus’s designs, a 2D computer image is not the same as the real thing.
Our digital offers have been a small window on our work during lockdown but heritage and museums are about real objects in authentic spaces
Though lockdown is now easing, museums have only just been given permission to open, and developing a ‘social distancing’ model of opening in our small, essentially domestic museums is challenging in its own right and still more so at staffing levels that are viable. The tourist market is not predicted to recover for two or three years and domestic tourists are focusing mostly on outdoor offers.
We are nevertheless determined to get something moving in the ‘new normal’. We hope to trial a Covid-secure opening of No 1 Royal Crescent in August: to trial some garden stargazing events at the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, supported by the Herschel Society, later in July; and we continue to deliver the lottery project for conservation and re-interpretation of Beckford’s Tower in its landscape. We would encourage you to join us: we will not open the doors if we felt we could not do this safely and enjoyably for visitors.
We will have to continue to be adaptable in how we respond to the changing world around us
We know that whatever happens we will have to continue to be adaptable in how we respond to the changing world around us. Our focus will remain on our dual charitable purpose of protection of heritage and landscape and education through museums. Bath Preservation Trust survived World War II, the Sack of Bath and multiple recessions – we are determined to stay part of Bath’s heritage scene for some time to come.