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Derbyshire council aims to relocate closed Buxton Museum after repairs could cost ‘millions of pounds’

Derbyshire council’s announcement that it aims to relocate Buxton Museum and Art Gallery from its iconic dry rot-ravaged building marks the end of an era for the venue which has helped to tell the town’s wonderful historic story through many generations since it opened in the late 1920’s.

The county council’s Leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, told a Full Council meeting, on Wednesday, May 22, that following assessments it has been established that it is no longer viable for the beautiful building, at The Peak Buildings, on Terrace Road, in the heart of Buxton, to house the museum but the council intends to relocate the esteemed public service to a new venue in the town.    

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reportedly first opened in 1928 in the beautiful Victorian building which is said to date back to 1880 and the council-run museum’s famous 40,000 or so artefacts include Ice Age bones and teeth, geological artefacts, a fine art collection, the unique Ashford Black Marble as well as a Derbyshire police collection.

Cllr Lewis, who oversees culture and tourism in his Cabinet role, said: “We are talking millions of pounds to bring this building back into use as a museum and we are not talking a few million – we are talking many millions.”

Concerned individuals had signed a petition organised by Vision Buxton with over 2,000 names calling for the council-run building to be repaired and preserved as the town’s museum and Discover Buxton and Buxton Civic Association have also raised concerns and stressed the importance of keeping the museum in the town.

The council leader says he recognises many people have been ‘champing at the bit’ to get the building reopened after it was shut in June, 2023, following the discovery of dry rot and it has since undergone lengthy assessments prior to the council’s formal announcement that it is no longer deemed to be fit for purpose or cost-effective to restore as a museum.

With great sadness, Cll Lewis added: “That is not going to be the building the museum reopens in but we are committed to opening another building [for the museum] in Buxton and we are committed to finding that long-term solution in the town.”

Dry rot was found in the structural timbers and floor joists of the building in June, 2023, making parts of the building potentially unsafe which led to its temporary closure to examine the extent of the damage. 

The council had to look at removing wall panelling, floor coverings and ceilings, including the area behind the Wonders of the Peak Exhibition, which could not be done while the building was occupied and open.  

Cllr Lewis said that the building has not been deemed to be safe and staff have had to move artefacts around and it will need a lot of work to repair.

He added: “We had to see what it might cost us to repair and having taken a closer look there are complexities within the building which has been altered.

“It was becoming apparent to everyone that the fact the building was not going to be fit for purpose was quite high and that has clearly become the case and with the work stripped back and the structural issues and the dry rot it is clearly a big problem.”

He said that repairing dry rot in a municipal building with three floors and a roof with badly affected windows all needing replacement was just not viable.

As the council begins looking for an alternative venue and facilities to house and display artefacts, plans are being developed for a museum service to run in the meantime before the long-term solution is secured with the safe storage of items, and potentially relocating some while setting up pop-up displays and developing a schools travelling collection.

Plans include Buxton Library housing some displays and the council is considering temporarily housing The Boyd Dawkins Study Room, at County Hall, in Matlock, and discussions are underway with local heritage partners and the National Stone Centre in Wirksworth with plans also including an ongoing online presence. 

Cllr Lewis said the council is in dialogue with all relevant parties associated with the building as well as those who are concerned about the museum’s future location including Buxton Heritage Trust. 

He added: “It will take the form of a museum building for Buxton. We are in conversation with people and making enquiries about other suitable buildings and High Peak Borough Council has been very important in supporting our pop-up ambitions.

“There is a dialogue with all the concerned groups and if they can support us in finding a building, that helps us.”

The latest council announcement echoes the authority’s intention throughout to fulfil its commitment to keeping a museum in Buxton and to preserving its wonderful collections.

Derbyshire County Council is planning to sell the iconic and attractive council building for commercial, residential or mixed-use especially because it is still considered to be an important part of the town’s heritage but this is expected to take some time.  

The adjacent and interlinked Peak Buildings, also owned by the council, which have stood empty since the courts closed back in June 2016, may also be incorporated into any future use for the closed museum building, according to Cllr Lewis.

He said: “While extremely sad for everyone connected to the museum in its present home, it is with great reluctance that we have to confirm it is no longer viable for the museum to operate from the Peak Buildings and a new location must be secured.”

He added: “At the time we very much hoped that closing the museum would be a temporary measure, but on-going assessment work looking at the extent of the dry rot in the building, involving taking down ceilings, walls and lifting floors, is making it clear the building cannot be easily made safe for the public and staff without a programme of very costly remedial work that would take a considerable length of time.

“It is difficult to put a figure on this work while the assessments continue.

“Although solid progress has been made regarding our well-documented challenging budget position, we still face difficult times and must spend every penny we have wisely and with the greatest efficiency.

“Unfortunately we simply cannot justify spending what we know will be a large sum to return the Peak Buildings back into a usable and modern museum space.

“We also need to consider the length of time remedial work could take, which would not only leave a key, prominent building in the town empty for a considerable length of time, but also leave Buxton without a museum while we carried out the work.

“It would be far better for the building and town if the building was sold to a buyer who could invest in it and bring it back up to a high standard.

“This would be out of our reach as a local authority and, this way we would be able to retain the sale price and re-invest in the museum when we find a new and appropriate location.”

Following the decision to move the museum, work is expected to start immediately to move all the artefacts, displays and artwork from the building, and when this is completed the building will be put up for sale.

Since the closure, museum staff have been packing and moving collections of well over 40,000 artefacts, exhibits, exhibition cases and art works, including the entire Wonders of the Peak exhibition and the Boyd Dawkins Study Room, from the affected areas

Cllr Lewis said: “We are fully aware of the importance of the museum and art gallery in Buxton and the very high regard with which it is held by residents, visitors, businesses and groups, as well as regionally and nationally.

“We share the passion people have for it and continue to explore every avenue we can to secure a long-term solution.

“It’s not straightforward and was never going to happen overnight, but we’re hard at work and have been engaging with partners, including very positive discussions with High Peak Borough Council, on a range of options.

“I am urging local groups to fully engage and work with us on this challenge and look forward to discussions with representatives in the coming weeks so that positive solutions can be found.

“The value of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is immeasurable to local people, visitors to Buxton, wider communities and our great county, and our main goal remains to secure the long-term future of the museum in the town.”

Cllr Lewis has also given assurances the museum building’s closure and the latest decision not to use it as Buxton Museum’s venue while looking for a new location has not led the council to have to consider staff losses.

And The Leader confirmed two new staff members are to be taken on after a retirement and after another employee took a new job so the council is looking to appoint a new museum manager and assistant collections officer.

The council has stated that details of the sale of the building will be announced when they are finalised over the coming months.

 

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