Charity No 234800
The Chief Executive's report presented to the Cabinet made no meaningful mention of the two outreach programmes that offer significant benefit to the community, save for a brief reference when considering Equality Act impacts. The report made no assessment of the benefits these programmes offer the Borough’s schools, the elderly and dementia patients, and it provided the Cabinet with no information about them. We have written to the Council about the inadequacies in its assessment.
The usage figures for 2018/19 from Epping Forest District Council confirm that 8,121 school pupils benefited from the educational outreach programme ((which offers a variety of workshops both in and off site) in that year. (In the same period, Hertford Museum had only 1,600 individual pupil visits for its school programme.)
The Council did not carry out any consultation with schools to understand the value they place on this programme and the impact of closure.
Lowewood Museum also offers support to the Borough’s residential and nursing homes, through its outreach programme for the elderly and dementia sufferers - this article from the Nursing & Residential Care Magazine explains more about this fantastic work. Lowewood is a museum which is at the forefront of the relatively new understanding of the value museums can offer in terms of healthcare and wellbeing, which are of course things that the Council say are important to it.
We have asked the Council to provide us with the usage figures they referred to when carrying out their assessment of the benefit provided by Lowewood. We have not yet received an answer.
We have obtained our own figures from Epping Forest District Council. The figures for Lowewood usage 2018/19 was as follows:
Total visits in person (visits to the museum, event attendance on and off-site, school workshops): 17,826
Total usage (all of the above plus remote usage, e.g. web and social media engagements, research enquiries): 95,988
School attendance alone (included within the total visits in person figures) was: 8,121 school pupils
Lowewood Museum has actively engaged with the changing world for museums (as many museums have not). It has done so successfully and it has made itself relevant (and invaluable) to the wider community.
The museum has played a central role in key heritage projects, attracting funding for the Borough’s heritage assets - not just funding specifically for the museum. For example, it obtained £86,900 of National Lottery Heritage Funding for the Pulhams of Broxbourne project (which conserved the brick kiln and puddling mill and produced a touring exhibition) and £68,500 for the Stephen Warner project.
Click here to see a table provided by Epping Forest District Council which shows the breadth of external funding obtained for Lowewood since 2013. The range of funders and projects demonstrate the value and range of Lowewood's service.
Our Council is rightly proud of its financial management, and in 2019 made some clear statements about its financial position. For example:
In its 2018/19 Accounts, the Council confirms that “The target of being financially self-sufficient, that is to say that the income the Council can generate for itself is able to fully fund its budgetary needs [our emphasis], i.e. it would no longer be reliant on funding from central Government. This target was met in August 2017.” (2018/19 Accounts, p5).
Later, the statement is made in relation to the Council’s investment income that “This income, along with council tax income of £4m and retained business rates income of £2m, will allow the Council to balance its annual budget for the foreseeable future as well as being able to continue to make a significant contribution to its capital programme [our emphasis] “ (2018/19 Accounts, p5).
In addition, there appears to be a revenues surplus for 2018/2019: "The statement shows a surplus for 2018/19 of £2 million which represents the amount by which income exceeds expenditure" (2018/19 Accounts, p10).
The statement on the Council’s website on the 2019/20 budget states that “The 2019/20 budget is balanced with no need to use reserves and the Council therefore continues to reap the benefits of its self-sufficient financial position, allowing the Council to fund expenditure without having to cut or reduce service levels.”
However, the Lowewood Report states that “All expenditure needs to be considered in the context of the Council’s medium term financial strategy, which indicates that the Council has a budget gap of over £533k in 2021/22, rising to around £2.1m in 2023/24. External funding cannot be obtained for day to day running costs and any increase in costs that the Council incurs, need to be offset by new additional income or cost savings from other areas.”
So, on the one hand, there is a Council with a balanced budget “for the foreseeable future” and a revenues surplus for 2018/19, making statements that there will be no need to cut or reduce service levels, and on the other hand there is the Council in the Lowewood Report which projects a budget gap for 2021/22 onwards and says that it needs to cut valuable community services like Lowewood.
We have asked the Council to help us understand how these statements can be reconciled. We have asked how, if budget gaps are predicted for 2021/22 onwards, it can be accurate to state in the 2018/19 Accounts that the Council expects to be able to balance its budget “for the foreseeable future”. We have also asked the Council to confirm the purposes of the Service Protection and Enhancement Fund and the Broxbourne Sport and Broxbourne Leisure and Culture Reserve.
However, on any analysis, it is clear that our Borough is a relatively wealthy one - and if any Borough can find the funds to support its only centre for local history and heritage, ours can. The Council say that the problem is not with its capital funds, but with its revenues used to fund the running costs of the museum (as its capital reserves cannot be used for this purpose). Perhaps the real issue is council tax. Our Borough prides itself on having the lowest council tax in the country - but what use is this to us if valuable community services like Lowewood are removed? There is provision in the budget till 2022 to run the museum; why not then make a small increase in council tax to cover the running costs?
This is unacceptable in a Borough the size and wealth of ours.
As we have told the Councillors, museums contribute to communities’ sense of shared history and identity. As Sir Antony Gormley said in his open letter to the Council, they are “a unique and critical part of any communit[y’s] ability to inspire and educate”. Losing our only heritage centre would be an immeasurable loss to the Borough, its residents, and its schools.
During the course of EFDC’s management of Lowewood, a number of projects/activities have been undertaken to enhance the benefit provided by Lowewood to the local community.
These include Toddler Thursdays (once a month at Lowewood), adult art workshops, family fun days (every Thursday during the school holidays) - attendance last year was 1774. The family programme is kept low cost in order to provide an engaging and accessible programme to local families.
The most recent exhibition at Lowewood Museum featured artist James Ward, Royal Academy artist, whose connection with the Borough is with Cheshunt, where he lived for the last 30 years of his life. The exhibition included nationally important art works from both the Tate, London and the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, along with the works which are permanently held at Lowewood Museum.
Lowewood Museum's collection and its galleries tell the history of the Borough of Broxbourne (not simply Hoddesdon) and so includes material to tell the history of Cheshunt. Its ‘Cheshunt’ collection was heavily developed by former Borough historian Peter Rooke, and Cheshunt librarian Jack Edwards.
Starting with the earliest collections, archaeological archives and finds relating to Cheshunt are held at the museum and include material from sites such as Hammond Street, Canada Fields (evidence of bronze and iron age metal working), Cheshunt Park Farm and finds from the former Cheshunt nunnery. Finds currently on display at the museum include flint handaxes found at Pengelly House, Cheshunt, neolithic tools found at Cheshunt Park, medieval tiles from Cheshunt Nunnery, a gold Aureus of Trajan (Roman coin) found on land adjoining the former Ermine St, Cheshunt, and a rare medieval dagger found in Dark Lane, which was on display at the Royal Armories Museum for many years.
The museum's social history collection also covers many Cheshunt stories such as the Debenham Family of Cheshunt Park, and the Meux’s of Theobalds Park. (An important portrait of Lady Valerie Meux, painted by artist James Whistler during her time at Theobalds now resides at the Frick Collection in New York.) The museum's archive on Cheshunt includes objects, costume, paper records and an extensive photographic archive, all covering aspects of the town's history, (working life, agricultural nursery industry, war years, Cheshunt Cottage Hospital, schools' history, including Bishops College etc). The museum's galleries showcase aspects of this history, and some of the most popular items include the plaster models of Temple Bar (created during its restoration and return to London in 2003/4) and the much loved tiger and leopard from the collection of Sir Admiral Hedworth Meux (former resident of Theobalds).
The Friends of Lowewood Museum are holding a talk on the 21st April called 'Broxbourne's Admirals'. The admirals concerned all have connections to the Borough of Broxbourne, specifically Hoddesdon and Cheshunt, and include Admiral Meux of Theobalds Park. The research for the talk was largely carried out at Lowewood Museum.
The museum also holds items and exhibitions of general interest - the current exhibition, "Man on the Moon" for example, celebrates the first moon walk in 1969.
On a number of occasions members of the museum team have also joined the Friends of Lowewood at the Broxbourne Community Open days at Bishops Court. In 2019 the museum team took a stall to Cedars Park to support the WW1 heritage day. Members of the team brought information about the museum, selections of historic photographs of the area, handling material and activities for children along with other marketing material and sale items. A key function of attending these event to is talk to the local community about its museum and what it has to offer them.
Schools in Cheshunt which have benefited from the outreach programme
Epping Forest District Council have provided the following details of the Cheshunt schools they have worked with during their time delivering services at Lowewood (since 2012).
Flamstead End – 16 visits
Fairfields – 19 visits
Bonneygrove Primary – 5 visits
Dewhurst St Mary – 19 visits
Andrew’s Lane Primary – 1 visit
Burleigh Primary – 25 visits
Churchfield Primary, Cheshunt Wash – 21 visits