Museums Under Threat From Council's Plan For Wigan Pier

By Zoe Graham | 04 November 2004
Shows a photograph of Wigan Pier. Canal boats in the foreground carry tourists, while in the background there is a row of buildings under a blue sky.

Immortalised by George Orwell, Wigan Pier has long been a central attraction in the town. Courtesy Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

The road to Wigan Pier could dramatically change as two museums in the town face closure to make way for a regeneration scheme that includes apartments, restaurants, a hotel and other leisure and visitor attractions.

Months after the refurbishment of the Trencherfield Mill engine, Opie’s Museum of Memories will be the first to close in April 2005 making way for the new developments.

It will be followed by the closure of the museum of Victorian life, The Way We Were.

The scheme, developed by Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, has caused much concern amongst museum staff and volunteers.

Shows an artist’s impression of what a new performance venue at Wigan Pier might look.

An artist’s impression of how a performance venue, part of the council's plans, at Trencherfield Mill might look. Courtesy Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

Ron Hopkinson, a Wigan Pier volunteer, told the 24 Hour Museum: "Wigan Pier has put Wigan on the tourist map, just as George Formby Seniors music hall reference drew attention to the town.".

"Nowhere else is there a Wigan Pier. Without that, who would want to come to Wigan?"

The Wigan Pier Experience has been a popular choice for tourists, schools and locals for over 20 years.

However, Councillor Brian Baldwin, Wigan council cabinet member for culture argues that times have changed: "The heritage industry is not the draw it once was, especially since free entry to museums was reinstated," he said.

Shows a photograph of a recreated Victorian school room. Visitors in contemporary clothes are sitting at desks, while a man dressed as a Victorian schoolmaster is standing.

The Way We Were takes visitors back to the Victorian era when, like many of its neighbours, Wigan played its part in the industrial revolution. Courtesy Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

"We do not get anything like the number of visitors to the attraction that we used to," he added. "In fact the council subsidises the attractions at the Pier to the tune of £1.3m a year."

"We believe the Pier’s future lies in a gradual move towards a cultural quarter for the 21st century rather than a series of heritage attractions looking back at the last century."

The closures are part of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s (WLCT) new scheme ‘Getting Wigan Active’ a five to 10 year plan of investment and regeneration that will transform the face of council-owned culture and leisure facilities.

It is a multi-million pound strategy divided into three areas - Wigan Pier Quarter, Sport and Physical Activity, Libraries and Information - that plans to get Wigan residents active physically, mentally and creatively.

Shows a photograph of the vast Trencherfield Mill Engine, which has steam rising from its centre and is under glowing pink and white light.

The recently restored Trencherfield Mill Engine is the world's largest working steam engine. Courtesy Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

WLCT aims to develop Trencherfield Mill as the Tourist Hub of the Wigan Pier Quarter area and maximise the area's potential.

Development proposals include a new 500 seat performance space at the mill, which will host the annual Wigan International Jazz Festival, a café, bar and restaurant as well as loft apartments above the mill.

Rodney Hill, WLCT Chief Executive acknowledges these plans are ambitious and controversial but believes the vision represents realistic and achievable aspirations for the future.

"We know that not everyone will agree with (the plans) but we would ask people to focus on the bigger picture and the improvements the visions could bring."

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