Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign
Exciting developments for Snibston Museum

20 April 2015

I was very impressed by the Friends of Snibston meeting on 16 April, which left me with a sense of hope, and a sense of pride in Coalville and its mining heritage being expressed in support for the museum. It chimed in with the size of the petition raised last year, signed on paper by 8047 people and online by a further 1421.

In conversations afterwards people were talking of memories of mining in Coalville. There’s no doubt that it was a tough life, but at a time when Coalville needs regeneration, it seems particularly important to recognise and honour those achievements.

Recent visits to Snibston have left me wondering about the financial case for closure. Last time I was there I struggled to find a space in the car park. That might be a case for adjusting some aspects of the business model, but that is a long way from saying it is not viable. My impression is that some of the staff have felt there were restrictions being put on them which limit their freedom to improve things. I’ve sensed that aspects of the museum could be improved, including the geology of how coal came about, the strength and durability of the mining community, and science and technology and also fashion which lay the foundations for the future.

This means I was delighted to hear Stuart Warburton, an experienced museum professional, chair the meeting with input from Science Projects Ltd and the Land Trust, both seeking to work in partnership to take on and enhance the museum. What was particularly encouraging about this co-operative way of thinking is that it lends itself to further partnerships to improve the museum and its links into the community. Looking at Snibston purely as a museum, this is very positive and opens possibilities such as exciting people about science, and the sort of arts-based outreach which has been shown to have a very positive effect on people’s lives. But there is a bigger picture associated with the need for regeneration in Coalville. Successful regeneration needs to include work within the community, such as improving Snibston as something people can be proud of, and celebrating the mining heritage of Coalville.

Early in the meeting we were told that an application for a judicial review has been made at to the High Court, accompanied by an order to delay the closure while the review takes place. A judicial review focuses on potential flaws in the process by which a decision was made, rather than simply asking for it to be overturned, but comments in the meeting gave me the impression that the lawyers think a good case can be made.

What made a particularly strong impression on me was a moving speech from Louise Hall, who is the claimant in the application for judicial review. Louise spoke of her experience of mental health issues arising while a student which caused her to drop out of college, and the role that volunteering at Snibston has played in her journey from there to starting to be able to look at applying for jobs. Here’s someone who could easily end up being very marginalised, but was instead speaking at a public meeting, and being the claimant on a case at the High Court. That’s a very positive story coming out of Snibston: I doubt that it is the only one.

It is hard to express the community aspects of the work of Snibston in financial terms. I’d like to be provocative and turn that around by asking an awkward question: if Snibston goes, how much will it cost to enable a similar level of community benefit?

On an explicitly financial level, research has shown Snibston to be contributing £4,200,000 annually to the local economy. For the public purse that represents to significant tax revenue to set against any subsidy of Snibston. Improving Snibston offers considerable potential for that figure to go up. We are not looking just at a marking Coalville’s past, but at what we take forward and the potential for exciting people over their future in science, technology and fashion.

The model the Friends of Snibston are proposing is very exciting. I very much hope that a way can be found for the decision to close to be re-visited so that the good work going on there can develop, and it can play a major role in the regeneration of Coalville.

The Liberal Democrat councillors on Leicestershire County Council vigorously opposed the decision to close Snibston. At the time they were of the view that the best way forward was for Snibston Museum to be transferred to an independent trust. They support the proposals of the Friends of Snibston.