Uncertain future for Oundle Museum

Oundle Town Museum has been located at the Courthouse since 2000 and is coming to the end of its 20 year lease on January 1, 2021. It has requested a new 20 year lease from Oundle Town Council, which owns the building.

The Chair of the Management Committee, Carole Bancroft-Turner said they had not heard anything from the council about the status of their lease.

At committee meetings, the council has expressed uncertainty about whether they will plan to sell the building in future years and are debating the renewal of the lease.

The lack of a long lease could be the end for the museum. Without a long lease, it would struggle to apply successfully for grants on which it is dependent for funding.

The council is discussing the future ownership of the Courthouse, and may consider its sale due to ongoing maintenance costs. In 2013 the council offices were located at the Courthouse, and there was widespread opposition from town residents to sell the Courthouse when the offices moved to the newly refurbished Fletton House. Since then, units have been leased to small businesses, as well as the Museum, and the council receives just over £40,000 annually from rents.

The Museum’s first dedicated space was opened in 1994 in the Drill Hall on Benefield Road. It was founded by a group of friends who met in 1981 while studying the history of Oundle. Originally the group organised small three-day exhibitions in Oundle School’s Yarrow Gallery, which led to the foundation of the Oundle Historical Society. The town council was supportive of their work and offered a permanent space in the former Drill Hall at subsidised rates. It relocated to larger premises at the Courthouse with funding from a Heritage Lottery Grant, and in 2007 the museum reached accreditation status after meeting the nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK.

In 2018, the museum won the Best Volunteer Project Award at the Northamptonshire Heritage Awards held at Althorp House. The main exhibition theme changes every year and aims to appeal to all ages.

Mrs Bancroft-Turner said “There’s a lot we’d like to do to modernise the museum, but we can’t apply for grants unless we have a long-term lease.”

The Oundle Museum is run by volunteers with oversight by a board of trustees. Day-to-day management is by a committee of twelve volunteers, with some who have served since the founding in 1994 and who have dedicated thousands of hours to the museum. There are 50 stewards who staff the museum during open hours from March to November.

The museum staff are anxious about the future and the lack of communication from the council. “We hope that the council are supportive of us and all the work we’ve done over the last 20 years,” said Mrs Bancroft-Turner.

Esme Kroese
May 2020