Like many cultural organisations across the region, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) hard. BMT is an independent charity that cares for the city’s collection of around 1 million objects, providing a wide range of educational and enjoyable cultural experiences, events and activities to visitors at nine venues across the city, including the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter MJQ), and other city centre venues – Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Thinktank.
When the pandemic hit, the MJQ, along with the other BMT sites, was forced to close for the safety of staff and the public, but as a charity that relies on raising much of its funds through commercial activity, such as ticket sales, events and café purchases, this was devastating. For every week, the sites were closed BMT was losing £100,000 income.
Despite the doors being closed, the hard work to preserve the city’s history doesn’t stop as the collection and the buildings themselves continue to be cared for behind-the-scenes; but there’s no doubt that as an educational charity opening our doors to the public and sharing the city’s rich and vibrant history with visitors is at the heart of what we do, so navigating these last few months has been challenging.
We have adapted and found new ways to reach our audiences, including increased online engagement. As a not-for-profit organisation without large reserves, the priority has been to ensure we are still engaging with the public whilst making sure BMT survives this crisis and is here to protect the city’s heritage in years to come.
We have done all we can to minimise the huge financial impact of the last few months, which has regrettably included making a number of redundancies across the organisation. The workforce has now been reduced by 25%, which is equivalent to 48 full time roles across BMT.
It is incredibly sad that we have had to lose any of our hardworking and knowledgeable employees, but like many arts organisations we have had to make some very tough decisions. Our Museum Team Manager remains in post at the MJQ and there are still a team of staff working across the historic properties, which also include Aston Hall, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Weoley Castle and Blakesley Hall.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has also reopened to the public with limited opening hours, and as an organisation, BMT has recently been successful in securing £1.8m from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. This money is a much-needed lifeline and is to be used until Spring 2021. It gives the organisation some stability to plan for the future, including reopening Thinktank early next year.
As many readers of the Hockley Flyer will know, the MJQ is a fascinating space – a time capsule which offers a unique glimpse of the working life of the Quarter and of the Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm which closed its doors there in 1981. Operating at a significantly reduced capacity at the museum means it is not financially viable to fully reopen the doors to the public at the moment, but there are lots of plans ahead.
Alex Nicholson-Evans, Commercial Director at BMTrust, said: “It’s been lovely to see so much support for Birmingham Museums during these difficult few months and we know that the MJQ plays an important role in the cultural ecology of the Quarter. We cannot wait to reopen the museum when it is safe and financially viable to do so but every step we take must be carefully planned out to ensure the Trust can continue to survive this crisis during these uncertain times.
“For now, we are focusing on planning a series of special events, which include Jewellery Quarter walks, encouraging people to explore the area and its fascinating history.
We are also very proud to support local makers and we are still selling a wonderful range of jewellery from Jewellery Quarter designers via our website, and plan to open our doors for two events in December to showcase the range of jewellery we have available to purchase and encourage shoppers to support local businesses this Christmas.
“We can’t wait to welcome visitors back to the museum, and these events are the first steps for us as we plan for the future against a backdrop that still remains uncertain, with lockdown restrictions ever-changing. The Jewellery Quarter has many fascinating stories, and it is our great privilege to help tell them.
We are so grateful for the support of the local community during these difficult times; to those who have purchased memberships, made donations, shopped on our online shop or are planning to attend the first of our events, a big thank you from all at Birmingham Museums.”
Luke Crane, JQDT Executive Director, said: “The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter plays a huge part in telling the story of our fascinating Quarter. MJQ has been sorely missed over the past 7 months so we are delighted to see the range of special events that they have planned over the next few weeks. As an integral part of our local community, we are so excited for the Museum’s doors to finally reopen once it’s safe and viable to do so.”
The MJQ Local Makers Christmas Showcase events take place on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th December.