Small price hike should not stop us celebrating heritage

Granted, it is a sad state of affairs when taxpayers have to pay twice to use municipal facilities.
In an ideal world, given the importance of cultural oases such as museums, admission should be free. But amid swingeing cutbacks to public services and the reality is that if we want to retain such buildings then there is a price to be paid.
The announcement that the city council is considering increasing admission charges to its museums by around 20 per cent came as no great surprise to me.
No stone will be left unturned as local authorities attempt to reduce their budgets.
The proposed increases of £1 on the £5.95 adult ticket for the Gladstone Pottery Museum, or 50p on the current £2.50 admission price for Ford Green Hall and Etruria Industrial Museum, may seem quite steep.
However, I don’t see these increases being prohibitive. If someone is interested enough to look up such venues then I’m pretty sure the cost won’t put them off. What concerns me more is the fact that such price increases will only generate an estimated additional £10,300 a year for the museums service.
That is a piffling amount and begs the question: just how many people are actually going through the doors of these venues?
Even my simple grasp of maths tells me that it can’t be very many.
The fact is we have some wonderful museums in Stoke-on-Trent which speak for the city’s rich and precious industrial history. As well as preserving them for future generations, we have a duty to ensure that they are well used.
We are still known as ‘the Potteries’ and that nickname is still used by many natives.
But I wonder how many of us have actually ever been to Gladstone Pottery Museum and walked among the bottle ovens and the barrels?
I wonder how many city schools make sure that every child travels to Gladstone to learn a little more about the industry on which Stoke-on-Trent’s reputation was built? I never went on a school trip to a local museum – but I did enjoy visits to the Jorvik Viking Centre in York and Alderley Edge.
While I enjoyed the days out, I can’t help but thinking that local history was neglected as I learned nothing of the pottery industry, the coal mines, Shelton Bar or the canal network.
You see, there is little point having such gems as Gladstone unless we locals start to use them more because, in all honesty, the numbers of visitors to such museums from outside North Staffordshire must be fairly small.
We need to think more creatively about how our tourist attractions can be used – to maximise both footfall and revenue generation.
Murder mystery evenings, ghost hunts and open-air Shakespeare productions have all been successfully staged at museums and we need to see more of such activity at ours.
We need to make the visitor experiences more vivid and attractive because I see tourism – both local and national – becoming increasingly important to our economy. As we start to get to grips with the restoration, interpretation and presentation of artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard, we can begin to see the potential of the acquisition of this breathtaking archaeological discovery.
If we play our cards right we could market ourselves as the home of the Hoard and use it to bring visitors into the city centre.
Once we’ve got them to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery we could signpost our other cultural destinations – creating a genuine museums trail which showcases our heritage.
Whether it be public art, museums or libraries we must ensure that – amid the most challenging of economic circumstances – these assets which help to define us from the other cities are protected and nurtured.
The benefits of culture are sometimes hard to quantify.
Suffice to say that without the likes of the Gladstone Pottery Museum and its ilk, our city would be much the poorer.

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