ALTON’S Allen Gallery and Curtis Museum look set to undergo another period of change this year as part of a “long-term journey of development” by Hampshire Cultural Trust, aimed at “combining effective delivery and future financial resilience”.

Achieved through change and modernisation to the charity’s organisational structure, the process will involve replacing the “current arrangement of central specialist subject curators and exhibition officers with cultural experience roles that will be responsible for curatorship and exhibitions”.

But it will result in an “overall 10 per cent reduction in head count”.

The news has triggered anger among some working in Hampshire’s already-depleted museum service, who have described Hampshire Cultural Trust’s proposals to lay off “the last of its technical, conservator and curatorial experts to save money” as “a callous pre-Christmas move that Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud of”.

In an anonymous whistle-blowing statement, thought to be from disgruntled members of Hampshire Cultural Trust, it was said: “The few remaining skilled museums-based staff are also being made redundant as new ‘cultural hubs’ are formed. More than a dozen jobs are being lost.”

And the whistleblower added: “This is the third major staff cutback since Hampshire Cultural Trust became custodians of the well-respected Hampshire County Council Museum Service in 2014. Since then the senior management team has consistently failed to appreciate the local and national importance of the vast collections held at the Hampshire Cultural Trust headquarters at Chilcomb House (Winchester) and displayed at the 18 museums they supply. A mismanaged programme of converting museums into coffee houses and trinket shops run purely by well-meaning volunteers has continued unabated. The situation is so untenable staff and trustees are resigning before this latest round of damaging cuts take place.”

Of the loss of staff mentioned in the statement, now issued by the Trust, the objectors point out: “It glosses over the fact this amounts to more than 150 years of experience.”

With just one co-ordinator in charge of some 400 volunteers, objectors fear that many of those folk who work on the collections will walk away.

“In 2018, all Hampshire Cultural Trust collections will be mothballed forever, there will be no in-house expertise, nothing will be restored, nothing will be preserved, nothing new will go on display, there will be no-one to deal with hundreds of public and peer group enquiries each year,” the whistleblower said.

But Hampshire Cultural Trust has refuted the claims.

Set up as an independent charity in 2014 to deliver a “dynamic and efficient cultural offer for people in a way that provides effective value for money”, in the first three years the Trust has, it says, refurbished two museums and self-curated exhibitions that have attracted local, national and international visitors.

Now, with the planned reduction in local authority grant funding, pressure is on to build on this early success while lowering the cost base, by cutting staff, in a bid to build a sustainable future. As such, the focus over the next five years will be on “outcome-driven work streams” to include segmentation of the Trust portfolio into community venues such as Alton’s Allen Gallery and Curtis Museum which will focus on social impact work, designed to open up free access to arts and culture as part of a ‘better life chances’ programme, and venues such a Milestones in Basingstoke which charge and are more suited to delivering a visitor experience to support the financial resilience of the service as a whole.

In order to keep drawing on the two-and-a-half million items in Hampshire’s “crucially important resource” to develop cultural experiences across its local venues, Hampshire Cultural Trust is determined to continue making improvements to the stewardships of these collections by “replacing its current arrangement of central specialist subject curators and exhibition officers with cultural experience roles that will be responsible for curatorship and exhibitions within each work stream”.

They will be supported by “a technical collections management, co-ordination and care team, which will continue to improve the care of these collections”.

This change is being delivered through a fitness for purpose organisational review which focuses more resources from central teams into delivering local benefit. As such, the aim is to increase the number of posts based in community venues, like the Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery which will now be supported by a dedicated community manager, and a new post of community cultural experience manager who will work across the Trust’s community museum venues to liaise with the central collections and exhibitions technical team. This post will support access to and development of collections relating to Alton.

According to Hampshire Cultural Trust, the Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery will also benefit from greater investment in digital and increased fundraising support for social impact programmes.

And a Trust spokesman added: “Hampshire Cultural Trust has a wonderful team of more than 400 volunteers who work across our venues and make things happen and we particularly recognise the exceptional contribution made by our volunteer team in Alton.”