Published: 23/01/2008 00:00 - Updated: 30/11/2011 14:18

Dismay as folk museum changes opening policy

Sandy Bennett, Tommy Wade and Donnie Grant outside the Highland Folk Museum.
Sandy Bennett, Tommy Wade and Donnie Grant outside the Highland Folk Museum.

THE historic Highland Folk Museum has closed its doors to casual visitors because it has become so run down, it has emerged. Only pre-booked parties of 10 or more people will be able to set foot in the attraction in Kingussie when it re-opens in March for the new season. Former Kingussie Provost Tom Wade said: "This will more or less hasten the end of the museum." Owners Highland Council controversially agreed in December, 2006, to close the museum which was founded by historian Dr Isobel Grant in 1944. They intend to relocate its extensive collection of Highland artefacts to the associated Newtonmore site once a venue is created as part of a multi-million redevelopment there. The museum, originally known as "Am Fasgadh" or "The Shelter", will remain open for the time being but only to advance group bookings, council chiefs confirmed this week. Much of the building is already closed off to the public because of safety concerns. Sandy Bennett, chairman of Kingussie Community Council, said he was disappointed with the restrictions. "We are all aware that the museum will be closing, but we understood that it wouldn't be for a few years yet," he said. "With the museum now only open to pre-booked parties, you can't help but think that the closure might come sooner rather than later." Mr Wade was equally as concerned for the future of the museum. He said: "The decision to keep the museum only open for prior bookings is just another step towards the complete closure of the historic site in Kingussie. "The present opening policy is bad news for the town." Both of the museums in Kingussie and Newtonmore offered free entry to the public last year as part of the Highland Year of Culture celebrations. The initiative helped to attract more the 50,000 visitors during the course of 2007. As a result of the bumper figures, council bosses have decided to retain the free entry policy this year. Bob Powell, principal museums officer at the Highland Folk Museum, confirmed the Kingussie site would re-open on March 20, but only to groups who booked in advance. "Both Highland Folk Museum sites in Newtonmore and Kingussie will open for the new season on March 20," he said. "Kingussie, however, will only be available on a limited basis to pre-booked groups of 10 or more people. "We are continuing to try and maintain a presence in Kingussie for the time being, but with each passing year it is becoming more difficult. "The condition of the building is getting progressively worse. At the moment, only two rooms and part of the farming museum are currently open. "The museum will therefore remain closed to casual visitors." The restriction was put in place last year, too, although there was no official announcement by Highland Council. There had been speculation in Kingussie earlier this week that further damage to the building caused by the wintry weather in the Badenoch capital meant that it would be closed for good. Badenoch and Strathspey Highland Councillor Gregor Rimell said it was good news that there would be free entry again. "If the council can develop the number of visitors attracted to the Highland Folk Museum, both in Newtonmore and Kingussie, it can only increase the attractiveness of the area and benefit the local community as a whole," he said. Mr Rimell also felt that museum staff in Kingussie had no choice but to keep the entry restriction in place because of its present condition. "The restriction is in place because of the state of the property, but we still want people to be able to make use of the resources in Kingussie." The Highland Folk Museum was handed over to the joint care of Scotland's four old universities 10 years later. It was taken over by Highland Regional Council in 1975. Dr Grant died in 1983, aged 96. The huge Newtonmore site, which includes numerous attractions from Highland past history, ranging from a 1940s farm to a replica Jacobite era black house community, opened in 1995. When Highland Council first raised the issue of closing the Kingussie site in the summer of 2005, it resulted in a petition against the proposal containing 1,500 signatures. This led Highland Council to commission a feasibility study into the options available. Results of the report went before the now defunct Highland Council Badenoch and Strathspey area committee just over a year ago. The committee agreed that the Kingussie attraction had to close and be moved to Newtonmore. Their controversial decision followed the publication of a 120-page report by Edinburgh-based Jura Consultants, which revealed the cheapest option would be to move all the museum's Kingussie operations to Newtonmore. It was estimated at the time that combining the two would cost the council £7.3 million, with the money going towards the building of a new £4.2 million visitor centre and another £3.1 million services building. The option of retaining both sites, with all visitor attractions at Newtonmore, and archive and educational facilities at Kingussie, was also explored. The consultants, however, estimated it would cost around £8.9 million. The £1.6 million difference was down to the costs incurred in restoring the historic Pitmain Lodge building, which houses the Kingussie exhibits. At present it has decay to its woodwork, while many of the museum's agricultural exhibits, which are lying in the open, are fast deteriorating. Jura Consultants estimated that closing the museum would cost the Kingussie economy the equivalent of £153,000 annually. That would be balanced out, however, by the doubling of the number of visitors at a new larger Newtonmore site from 18,000 people a year within the space of five years. Officials predicted the increase in visitor numbers could generate additional revenue of between £1.3 million and £1.8 million for the area, and 72 new jobs. The move to Newtonmore is expected to be completed within the next three to four years.

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