Newton Stewart Museum faces short-term future

The newton Stewart Museum volunteers, Bill Marshall, Kirsty Robertson, Michael Dunlop, Peter Henk, Lucy Owen, Jim McLay and Dolly Ferries. GG 0104002 11
The newton Stewart Museum volunteers, Bill Marshall, Kirsty Robertson, Michael Dunlop, Peter Henk, Lucy Owen, Jim McLay and Dolly Ferries. GG 0104002 11

A CALL has gone out to the people of Newton Stewart and visitors to the area to support the town’s history-rich museum amid fears over its future.

The Museum, on York Road, has been in existence for 33 years inside the old church building which is jam-packed with character, and has had continued support from volunteers and members of the community - but now this is needed more than ever.

James McLay told The Gazette that The Newton Stewart Museum Trust, of which he is secretary, hopes that 2011 will bring over 1000 visitors through the door.

He said: “It is amazing how many of the local people assert, somewhat shamefacedly, that they have never entered the building. The collection grows every year and the team of of workers keep very busy preparing items for exhibition with informative labels and descriptions.

“But following on registration with Museums Galleries Scotland, moves have been made over the past few years to get accredited, and this year The Museum achieved full Accreditation from the national museum service.”

It is hoped that this new accreditation and the continued hard work of volunteers and committee members will ensure The Musuem’s future but James said that no amount of grants will cover running costs and that visitor numbers are what will boost income.

He said: “The high running costs of insurance and electricity are no longer fully met by the grant from Dumfries and Galloway of around £5,000 per annum. Capital costs for a building 134 years old are serious, and any grant support in this field usually meets only 50 percent of the costs.”

A name synonymous with not just The Museum but Newton Stewart as a whole is that of Miss Helen Drew, who purchased the old church and gifted it as a museum.

Miss Drew, who sadly passed away last year, collected all of her life for The Museum and a memorial plaque acknowledging her contribution to the community is now in the vestibule of The Museum, and it is expected that many of the townsfolk will make a special effort to visit this year to see this memorial following her death.

The Trust have had the support and encouragement of the Dumfries and Galloway Museum Service, in particular of Mr John Pickin of Stranraer Museum and curatorial adviser to Newton Stewart museum.

James added: “One can always find problems in any organisation and this is true of The Museum. There is a steady demand for more volunteers with time to spare, and perhaps some expertise to offer. Some townsfolk support as Friends of The Museum at £5 per annum with free admissions for the family, or as sponsors of advertising, but what is needed is more visitors.

“At the annual general meeting in November 2010, it was predicted that continuing with present income and expenditure gave The Museum a future of two more years. It is to be hoped that this dire warning will not become a reality.”

One piece for the collection which The Trust hope to trace is a photo of the former Auchendoon House in the town, which was destroyed by fire in the 1970s. Anyone with such a photo is asked to contact The Museum on 01671 402472.