And the results of their hard work and perseverance could be used as a template for other museums across the country.
For a few dark months in 2010 and 2011, Hampshire County Council’s museums service threatened to close both Alton venues except for a few dates per month by appointment, and to make redundant the five members of staff who worked there.
A campaign dubbed Save Alton’s Museums was quickly organised, a public meeting was attended by more than 400 people, a fighting fund was set up and, after many difficult months, a solution was found. Although, sadly, the five jobs couldn’t be saved, the buildings were kept open to the public and the Hampshire Museums and Galleries Trust undertook to run them for three years if sufficient volunteers could be found to augment the smaller number of paid staff.
More than 40 volunteers from the town and surrounding area were recruited and the venues re-opened their doors on July 12, 2011. Since 2014, the museums have returned to the fold and are now run by Hampshire Cultural Trust, a registered charity.
Many of the original campaigners and volunteers attended the party at the Allen Gallery to celebrate the saving of the museums, along with former and more recent recruits and staff from the Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Food and a celebratory cake were provided by the staff of Alton Community Centre’s Regency Tea Room.
In paying tribute to the dedication and talents of the volunteers, Tim Kelly, of the Hampshire Cultural Trust, said that the Alton museums are showing the way forward for other venues in the county. If he had spoken at a similar event at any other venue, he said, four volunteers might have turned up, but in Alton the number was closer to 30 with many more unable to attend because of holiday and family commitments.
He also mentioned the impressive number of events that Alton volunteers get involved in.
The Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery’s packed summer holiday programme starts this month with the exhibition Heads and Tales, part of Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Royal Blood theme – a series of exhibitions, performances and events.
The museums are also still keen to welcome more volunteers to join the existing team, either regularly or from time to time. Anyone interested is invited to call into either venue and speak to the volunteers, who will be happy to help them and answer questions.
The Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery are open 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday.