National Museum of Costume facing closure in cost-cutting programme

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ONE of the leading tourism attractions in Dumfries and Galloway is facing closure - due to a cost-cutting programme ordered by the National Museum of Scotland.

The National Museum of Costume, which attracts up to 15,000 visitors a year, has been a fixture at a Victorian country house at New Abbey, near Dumfries, for 30 years.

But bosse at the Edinburgh-based organisation say it can no longer continue to operate the site, which costs £23 per head per visitor to run and maintain.

A spokeswoman confirmed an internal consultation was underway, with a result expected before the end of next.

Shambellie House, which dates back to 1856, was left to the nation in 1977 by local artist and designer Charles W Stewart, whose great grandfather built it, to the design of celebrated Edinburgh architect David Bryce.

Stewart, who had a lifelong fascination with costume, had started collecting clothes from before the Second World War, searching through friends’ attics and market stalls.

He left the family home and the collection to the then Royal Scottish Museum in a bid to keep the collection together, fearing it would be dispersed after his death and “cast away to the dangers and squalors from which so much of it had been rescued”.

Items from the original Stewart collection are on display at the museum, along with items from the vast collections held by the National Museums Scotland organisation.

The museum also hosts regular touring exhibitions, while its grounds are a popular picnic spot in the area.

NMS, has had its budget cut by the Scottish Government in recent years, says its has also suffered a reduction in income due to the recession. Its flagship attraction is in Chambers Street, in Edinburgh, although it also has a flight museum in East Lothian, which hosts an annual airshow, and a museum of rural life in Lanarkshire.

Its spokeswoman added: “National Museums Scotland, like many other organisations in the public sector, has seen a reduction in funding as a consequence of the recession.

“While it has been working hard to supplement its reduced public funding through reducing staff numbers, implementing efficiency savings, growing earned income, and attracting donations and sponsorship, the financial climate remains very difficult.

“The board of trustees has been considering a range of cost reductions across the organisation and means to secure additional income over the last two years.

“The National Museum of Costume has a very large operational spend per museum visitor and low visitation. It attracts just 0.6 per cent of the total visits to our group of museums.

“Consequently our board of trustees has concluded that it can no longer continue to operate the site at this level.

“We will discuss the way forward with staff and trade unions, and until those discussions are complete we are not in a position to make a public statement.

“The Scottish Government has been very supportive of our work but like all public bodies we have had to take account of the reduction of public sector funding across the UK and there has been an inevitable reduction in our funding as part of that wider picture.”

Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown said: “The museum is an important asset to Dumfries and Galloway and its possible closure will come as a big blow to staff, as well as local people and visitors.

“The museum may be small compared to others in the country, but it is significant for our region. f National Museums Scotland is to be a truly national organisation then it needs to represent the whole of Scotland.

“The closure of the National Museum of Costume would send a terrible signal about how our region is viewed.”