Category Archives: consultation

Stockport Museums consultation – formal response from the Friends of Chadkirk

The Friends of Chadkirk
John Pengelly – Chair
Mr P Ashworth
Head of Culture and Leisure
Stockport MBC
Fred Perry House
Edward St, Stockport SK1 3UR

c.c. (by email) to:
1. consultation@stockport.gov.uk
2. Cllr. K Butler, Ctee. chair

17th Nov 2019

Dear Mr Ashworth,

Stockport Museums consultation – formal response from the Friends of Chadkirk

As promised, this letter forms the formal response of the Friends, but should also be read alongside the email exchanges which have taken place with you and other council officers, and also our minuted meeting on 31st October. Our comments are directed solely at the proposal to close Chadkirk Chapel as a museum facility.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Friends are wholly opposed to the current proposals, which seek to withdraw the already limited weekend opening, and to remove museum status for the building. We see this withdrawal of core council support as a significant retrograde step, after many years of reducing assistance. It potentially jeopardises the long established partnership we have developed over 40+ years. We can also confirm that we have no intention (or resource) to open the chapel as per the current hours on a voluntary basis should the facility close. Our resources are just capable of continuing the current voluntary commitments of organising a programmed calendar of community events, and maintaining the formal gardens. This is of course subject to the continuing availability of some funding or support, of which there is no certainty. We are in no position to take on additional responsibilities here; the need to seek additional funds will itself place a strain on our volunteer activity.

1. The consultation process
We are of the view that this is flawed on the following grounds:
a) The consultation relies heavily on electronic means of consideration and response, which is prejudicial to those users of the facility who are either not proficient with electronic communication, or are not on prescribed circulation lists. Until the Friends took it on themselves to publicise the proposal, which was some time into the specified consultation period, there were no public notices at the site and public knowledge of the council’s intentions was negligible. There has been no attempt by the council to engage meaningfully with the general public users of the site.
b) In the consultation document sent to councillors “Getting More out of our Spending” (sic) it clearly states that the consultation would be sent to schools. As a governor of the nearest primary school to Chadkirk, I have been advised that no consultation has been received by any of the local schools. At a time when OFSTED are looking to examine in
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more detail the wider school curriculum, to propose closure of a facility of this nature is short sighted in the extreme. Chadkirk performs a valuable function in educating and informing children of their local heritage and history, and is much visited by parents with
young children when open. To close it without considering this impact is unacceptable, and undermines the purpose of genuine consultation.

2. The proposal
a) The document has been written in a deliberately pejorative manner to advance the case for closure of Chadkirk. The sites proposed for retention are justified as “unique to Stockport”, “defining the identity of the town” and “most important buildings in their own right”. Chadkirk is dismissed as a “popular refreshment facility” and its offer is” limited”. This is nothing more than crude propaganda, and has no place in a document of this type.
We would remind you that Chadkirk Chapel is a Grade 2* listed building, which ranks it alongside the Town Hall in terms of its perceived historical and architectural significance. Only 5% of listed buildings nationally fall in to this category. It is possibly the oldest religious site in Stockport Borough. It was the earliest practising chapel for non-conformist religion in the area. To dismiss its importance in the manner that this document does is risible.
That its offer is “limited” is solely at the behest of the council, who for many years have done nothing to enhance its status, or look to build its collection. The audio visual display explaining its history has been broken for at least 10 years. This sums up the council’s deliberate neglect of this museum. In the meanwhile, other museums (Bramhall, Hatworks) have been, or are being, lavished with cash to preserve and enhance their offer. The decision to commit to the enhancement of Hatworks knowing that this consultation would be taking place appears to be a deliberate ploy to constrain the consideration of alternative cost saving options.

b) Chadkirk Museum is part of the Chadkirk Estate, which has grown in importance as a recreational and environmental resource over the past 20 years. There is no recognition here of that symbiotic relationship, nor any thought as to how the museum and estate could be managed together to reduce council cost and exploit potential. Each council department is working in an isolated bubble, as manifested by the current document.

c) It is normal for a consultation document to set out alternative options which have been considered, and to set out in a justified argument why the preferred option has been chosen. There is none of that here. The claimed savings of £40k pa are shared with the main Stockport Museum, but there is no breakdown of the cost which Chadkirk embodies. Given that the chapel is only open for less than 500 hours per year, we estimate staff costs at less than £5000 per annum. There will be income from refreshment sales, say £1000 over the year. There is no consideration of the potential impact on the Events income (which we understand to be growing) of the proposed closure. Without the ability to informally view the chapel when it is open, the likelihood of choosing it as an event venue decreases. Every event lost is a foregone income of £600 – £800. Additionally, there will be more calls on the events staff time to visit the site to enable potentially non-productive viewings. The museum “saving” (small as it is) will be outweighed by the increased staffing requirements and income loss elsewhere in the council. And that also assumes that the wedding event usage can continue, which is discussed later.

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d) There is an implicit assumption that volunteer activity might increase here, albeit no mention of the many museum supported activities that take place here at the Friends’ instigation currently – another way in which the document downplays Chadkirk’s uniqueness. (Where else in the borough does a well dressing of this type take place each year? That truly is “unique” – and yes, there are other museums with hat collections, albeit they are displayed in the context of the town museum where they are sited). In ignoring the volunteer activities, the document also ignores the potential implications for such
community events following the withdrawal of museums funding. Should the Friends withdraw from such events due to lack of funding, a potential casualty would be maintenance of the formal gardens which feature so prominently in the Events team promotional literature. Again, the potential negative implications for broader council considerations are lacking.
This is a one-dimensional, museum driven document, with no thought given to wider cost/benefit aspects.

e) The public document states that the proposed closure date for the chapel is 29th December 2019, but the “Getting More out of our Spending” (sic) document indicates that the implementation of changes would be phased take place up to April 2020 following a cabinet decision being made in December. The general election “purdah” will impact on the decision timeline. The “consultation” process does not conform to the stated parameters, and arguably should be extended until the parameters are met. We have sought to establish what the future arrangements for use of the chapel will be (should it close) without success. The questions referred to you after our meeting with you and other council officers on 31st October remain unanswered. To close the chapel on the 29th December in the absence of any clear guidance as to its future use and management is in our view ill-conceived, and we would ask that the timescales for any change are extended to enable suitable arrangements to be discussed and put in place.

3) Future usage

a) The document sets out no vision or recommendation for what happens to Chadkirk should the museum close, other than a vague resolution to contact volunteer groups to “see if they are interested”. We have sought, but not obtained, written assurance as to the future functioning of the Friends group in areas such as use of the chapel for our events; where costs will fall; where responsibility for management of the building will sit; and how the site will be publicised if it leaves the museum grouping. These all appear to be “work in progress”. It does make it more difficult to be “interested” if there is no formal framework or commitment to how future volunteer activity will be supported. The borough is already littered with underutilised buildings where council services have been withdrawn; the setting of Chadkirk Chapel is itself already diminished by the vacant and deteriorating farm buildings next door (abandoned and unused since school visits ceased many years ago). Woodbank and Vernon Parks also bear testament to this lack of joined up thought. We do not want another casualty here.

b) The Chapel was acquired from the church in 1971 with a covenant that it should be used for community use. The planning consent for the current use derives from the refurbishment in 1995, which refers to the building as being used as an “interpretation centre”. Withdrawal of the museum status will breach both of these requirements should the primary use change to that of a council “events venue” as appears to be the
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proposition. Planning consent for such a use would raise conflicts with many Stockport planning policies and seems unlikely. Without it, the registrar approval which currently exists for the performing of civil wedding ceremonies here would fall. The council has a history of legal breach at Chadkirk due to lack of forethought (paths constructed without planning consent; new window installed without listed building consent; weddings performed with the public prohibited). There appears yet again to be no thought given to this aspect when these proposals were formulated. Cessation of the events income through loss of the registrar’s weddings approval would certainly nullify the purported savings.

c) Given the lack of proposals for the immediate term (i.e. beyond the closure of the museum), it is no surprise that any medium to long term vision is lacking. Whilst this
proposal may theoretically satisfy the need to reduce museums expenditure (and that, from previous analysis, is arguable), it does nothing to secure the longer term future of the site. The council’s policy seems to be resting on the Micawber principle that “something will turn up”. Experience indicates that the more likely outcome will be a further reduction in use; further cost-cutting pressures; and ultimately the complete closure of the building to public and community access.

4. Conclusion

The Friends of Chadkirk believe that the current proposals are flawed. They will not deliver overall savings to the council, and place in jeopardy the future of this building as a community venue.
We are more than willing to work with the council to produce a management arrangement that will address the currently perceived difficulties of public access and in the process address the cost pressures that the council is experiencing. However, for all the reasons listed in this letter, what is currently being proposed meets neither of these requirements and should therefore be rejected pending the formulation of a more robust and sustainable proposal.

Yours sincerely

John Pengelly
Chair, Friends of Chadkirk

Continuing consultation

During Thursday’s meeting of the Friends of Chadkirk we continued to work to find a way forward. In this we were helped by the attendance at the meeting of a number of representatives from SMBC. Present at the meeting were four people from SMBC ( including two from Events, one from Museums and one from the Neighbourhood team).

At the meeting:

*the background and reasons for retaining council presence at Chadkirk were discussed.

*It was agreed that The Chair of the Friends of Chadkirk is to send a response on behalf of the group summarising the main concerns.

We thanked the 4 representatives for their input and attendance.
As a Friends group we appreciated the professionalism they showed in the way they approached the meeting.

Before our meeting a response from SMBC to “the questions” was received.
However it made clear that most of the questions raised could not be answered
until after all the consultation responses had been received and processed.
After that a view would be taken by decision makers at SMBC as to what the appropriate course of action might be.

It seems that due to the General Election “purdah” requirements, no decision from the consultation can be taken until after the 13th December.

Perhaps this means that we can continue to make our case until then?
Certainly those at recent meetings and members of Friends of Chadkirk will continue to do that. And perhaps you will too?

Going forward…

Yesterday’s meeting brought many people together. It was good to see so many folk care about the future of Chadkirk and, in particular, Chadkirk Chapel.

After the meeting it was only possible to talk briefly with some of the many and yet it was encouraging to connect with people who would like to do step up and get involved. It is clear that many of you have expertise that would extend the range of what our little Friends group have been able to do so far.

We meet as a Friends group in different guises for different activities. Sometimes that’s for events, sometimes for gardening, sometimes just for social activities. This week, on Thursday 14th November happens to be the third Thursday of the month, so we will be meeting in Chadkirk Chapel at 1pm. Obviously the future of Chadkirk Chapel will be on the agenda. And there’ll be an opportunity to develop and explore some of the idea that came out of the meeting.

Members new and old, ancient and modern are all invited.
You would be very welcome to join us there.

1pm Chadkirk Chapel
Thursday 14th November
Friends of Chadkirk Meeting

I’ve been ‘doing the blog’ since 2012. I set up a ‘free’ site. At the start there were no adverts. Now there are. So I believe it would be better to change what we do. Maybe stay with wordpress but pay their annual fee for a domain name, so the site is unsullied by ads.

Following on from the great ideas expressed and the enthusiasm shown, new members will be able to offer something that can mean that our future communications and social media connections change for the better.
Let’s find a way to get together.

Perhaps that’s another idea for Thursday’s meeting. Get the ball rolling?

A few questions to answer…

Questions raised include:

1. Do councillors agree that a proper consultation process has been followed by SMBC staff?
2. Does the General Election “purdah” impact on the consultation?
3. Who within SMBC will act as FoC’s contact, and who within the council will have “ownership” of the chapel if museums disengage?
4. Will SMBC continue to meet all operating costs of the building, and continue to allow its use by FoC for community events without charge?
5. Will SMBC support some other form of regular public opening of the chapel if it is no longer staffed as a museum?
6. How will SMBC advertise and publicise Chadkirk on it’s website if it is no longer seen as a museum? How will the public find out about the site and what’s on?
7. Why is past maintenance work incomplete, and what plans exist for future spending on Chadkirk buildings?
8. Please confirm the anticipated closure date, and council willingness to extend any implementation until the many issues regarding future use have been properly resolved and publically confirmed.
9. Agreement to enter in to “Memorandum of Understanding” which defines future roles and responsibilities between different council departments and FoC.

Today’s public meeting…and what to do now

Thank you to everyone who came along to Chadkirk Chapel today and made their voice heard.
Thank you to all those who signed the petition.
Thank you to those who stood up for the future of Chadkirk Chapel. Some folk literally, stood up – there was standing room only as today’s meeting got underway. More than 145 within the building, others at the doorway, listening.

The Chair of the Friends of Chadkirk welcomed everyone and started the meeting by providing an update. He had written to decision makers and raised questions about the future of Chadkirk Chapel. Given the proposals, what information could they provide about the future plans and possibilities? To kick off he went through the questions with any answers he’d been given, as well as outlining the questions where answers and clarifications are still pending. We await with interest the answers to these questions*…

Much seems uncertain.

And while much seems uncertain, what we can be sure of is that Chadkirk Chapel has a special place in the hearts of people far and wide. Many individuals talked of what it meant to them. People described the value of all the amenities and opportunities. Observing the real transformation that has taken place over the years from 1995, when renovation and other projects were initiated, has been a source of immense pleasure and satisfaction. The restoration of the Chapel, the Walled Garden, the programme of steady improvements in the range of Chapel’s art and craft work, investment by the Friends of Chadkirk, including in the sound system and facilities for presentations. There is much here to celebrate.

Nevertheless, we have also seen the way that austerity measures introduced since 2008 mean that there are funding issues. In that context, the consultation includes a statement that the Museums Service seeks to save
£40 000 each year (starting in 2020) by no longer including Chadkirk Chapel in their budget or their responsibilities. Who then has the resources to plug the gap? Or to do a better job with different resources?

It is clear that people want to see Chadkirk and it’s unique Chapel play a greater (and not a lesser) part in the lives of the community. It’s listed status alone almost demands that enough resources are found.**

There are ways to influence decision makers. Here’s a few :

There is the on-line consultation currently underway. (paper copies of the document are available at Chadkirk Chapel) You can make a submission either on-line or in writing. You have until 18th November to make your submission.

There is a petition in Chadkirk Chapel. You can sign this petition. Over 300 people have already signed. In addition there’s an on-line petition.

Raise the issue with local councillors and request consideration at meeting of Werneth Area Committee.

Contact decision makers via consultation@stockport.gov.uk

Funding the future

One participant spoke of her disappointment when she learned that her daughter’s wedding had been held in Chadkirk Chapel, and yet not a penny of fee paid had come to the Friends of Chadkirk or to Chadkirk directly. How much pleasure would it have given to know that the wedding was taking place at Chadkirk and that they were contributing to the support of a treasured part of the local landscape and community and the continued nurturing of this historic site. It seems like an opportunity missed.

So here’s a thought:
What if a % of the wedding fees paid were in future dedicated to go directly and explicitly to the Friends of Chadkirk/Chadkirk Chapel. After all, without the work they do, the money they raise, the garden they maintain, the beautiful west window they commissioned , would people chose to have a wedding at Chadkirk?

Maybe with 1% of the fees they would be able to set up the service, so that the kiosk continues to open at weekends? Perhaps this money could help fund our on-going programme of improvements?
Just a thought…

There’ll be better ideas, other thoughts and possibilities, alternatives that enable thriving rather than shrinkage. What are yours?

There were many people with many ideas about ways forward. Thank you for your ideas. Now let’s take what steps we can to make sure that our voice is heard. Through the democratic process and the engagement of the community there are ways that we can achieve a better outcome. Stronger Together.

** Cambridge Museum Service – person at the meeting who stepped forward and offered support. Please get in touch.

16th October Friends of Chadkirk Meeting at 1-30 pm in Chadkirk Chapel

The future of Chadkirk is being considered in the current round of budget planning and cost savings. 

As a means of making budget savings,  proposals being considering include:

  • (b)  Offer local organisations the opportunity to run the visitor and refreshment facility at Chadkirk Chapel and for the Council to cease operating the museum offer at the site.

Removing the chapel from the list of museum sites has many potential implications. 

How then will the fabric of the building be maintained to ensure the chapel’s future use by our community? How will that be taken care of? Funded? Which part of the Council will be responsible for the Chapel?

Will this change of status affect it’s continued use by our community?

Without adequate maintenance will it be available to the community as a safe, beautiful place to meet and celebrate the passing of the seasons? What will happen to it’s key role as a focal point for community use of Chadkirk and Chadkirk Chapel? What of the future of events such as Weekly Tai Chi, annual festivals such as Harvest Supper, Easter and Christmas celebrations? Well Dressing ? Well Dressing Blessing Day? Bat box making?

A consultation process is under way. Now is the time to make your views known about the future of Chadkirk.

https://consultation.stockport.gov.uk/policy-performance-and-reform/museums-consultation-2019/

The public consultation on the proposals runs until 15 th November.