Crisis meeting at Falconer Museum will warn of imminent closure

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The public is being invited to a crisis meeting at the Falconer Museum in Forres where they will hear the facility will close its doors forever at the end of October, after its funding from Moray Council has dried up.

The council announced in 2018 that, along with many other public services, it could no longer afford to provide the financial support the museum needs to stay open.

Despite efforts to find a way forward, no potential trustee has yet been identified. The museum is currently run by The Friends of Falconer Museum, a group set up in 1996 following the transfer of ownership from the Falconer Trust to the council.

The Friends have accused Moray Council of reneging on its agreement made at the time.

Chair of the Friends John Barret, said: “The Moray Council has unilaterally declared that it is no longer bound by the 1996 Legal agreement to ‘continue to manage, administer and finance… [the Falconer Museum].

“Moray Council officials have also unilaterally declared that the Falconer Trust no longer exists – even though the trust may be dissolved only by proceedings in the High Court and no such proceedings have taken place.

“However, acting under the advice of officials, councillor-trustees now refuse to stand up for the Falconer Museum or to insist that the 1996 agreement is complied with. Indeed councillor-trustees support Moray Council’s proposal to withdraw funding and close the museum.

“This is an egregious abdication of their responsibilities as trustees.

Artefacts

“If Moray Council cannot be persuaded to comply with the 1996 agreement – and if the museum is not hived off to a trust – it will remain closed. With no guarantee of future funding the collections and buildings will deteriorate.

“Eventually this breathtaking assemblage of Moray history and heritage – including artefacts and collections of national importance, studied by scholars from across the globe – will be lost.”

A spokesperson for Moray Council said the trust was dissolved in 2017 and there are now no trustees.

“The trust transferred ownership of the museum to the council in 1996. At the same time the council signed an agreement with the remaining trustees that the council would assume responsibility for the management, administration and financing of the museum, but nowhere does the agreement state that the museum must remain open and functioning – that is a matter for the council to decide.

“In 2017 the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) de-registered the trust because it had no assets. There being no trust there can be no trustees.

“A report on the Falconer is expected to be presented to members of the Policy and Resources Committee on 29 October, where its future will be debated.”

The museum was established in the 1860s, under a trust endowed by Hugh Falconer, botanist and palaeontologist, and his brother Alexander. The foundation collections included fossils collected by High Falconer in India. Falconer was also interested in the antiquity of mankind even before Darwin.

The Falconer Trust, consisting of lay members and councillors, transferred ownership of the museum to Moray District Council in 1996 and the Friends of Falconer Museum was formed to promote, support, assist and improve the Falconer Museum.

Chair of the group John Barrett will address the meeting. He said: “The Falconer Museum will close for the winter on 31 October 2019. It will not reopen in 2020. The doors of the Museum and store will be locked. Four staff posts will become redundant.

Maintenance costs

“Moray Council has allocated a small amount of money in the 2020-21 budget to maintain the museum, the store and the collections in a mothballed state. There is no guarantee that this funding will continue beyond the next financial year.”

Councillor George Alexander said recently that he would be ‘heartbroken’ if the museum closed. He told the Press and Journal: “On the one hand we have a superb museum that tells the story of one of the sons of this town. On the other hand, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the museum when we are having to make savings in every other area.”

Mr Barrett added: “The Friends are fully committed to continue supporting the Falconer Museum under any management regime that may be established in the future as a second-best alternative to public funding.”

The meeting will take place at 7pm on October 22 at the museum in Tolbooth Street. All are welcome.