An online petition set up to save the Whithorn Trust has attracted a “who’s who of archaeology” – with TV star Neil Oliver pledging his support to keep the cash-strapped historic tourist attraction open.
Oliver has a personal connection to the Trust, having worked at the Whithorn dig as a student.
Last week The Galloway Gazette broke the news that the Trust was facing a funding shortfall of £18,500 due to a change of policy within Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Faced with the spectre of closing down, the trustees swung into action to make their situation public with a Facebook page and online petition. Within days they had attracted ???? signatures from all over the world.
The Whithorn Trust employs seven people – one full-time and six seasonal – and looks after a priceless collection of fifth-century artefacts classed as being of national importance. The loss of the museum, alongside the cafe and information point, could take £500,000 out of the local economy and leave community organisations without a base.
Whithorn Trust project manager Janet Butterworth said: “The petition has just gone viral. We have had not just local support but international support as well. We have had dames and professors siging up. And Neil Oliver has sent word through his publisher that he will support the campaign.
“The Trust has been recognised in the Scottish Parliament as a regional priority so we want a meeting with representatives of the Scottish Parliament, the churches, the council and the trustees to find a sustainable solution.
“There are government agencies such as Historic Scotland, VisitScotland and the Museums and Galleries of Scotland who we can apply to for funding but they don’t pay core funding – they pay project funding. That won’t pay heat, light and wages, or provide the security we need. We have an exclusive collection to look after and security and insurance have to be in place.
“This is all about saving what would otherwise be lost from the area.”
The trust’s predicament has drawn a huge response, with many comments on social media sites.
Some of those posted this week include:
Geoff Newhouse said on Facebook: “I visited for the first time last October. I live 450 miles away. What you have is unique, amazing and deserving of wider appreciation. Little else is unique and it is essential that this is recognised by a wider authority and public. Is there a fund that receives donations, however small, and is it gift aided?”
Elrig, Dumfries & Galloway, said on Facebook: “I’m often stunned at what gets fully funded and what doesn’t, but feel our Scottish heritage should be of far more importance than subsidising certain other ‘pastimes’.”
Kriss Nicol said on the petition site: “This is a fantastic resource for local history, and is an important museum of archaeology and Christianity. It is also a popular tourist attraction and hosts many important events that brings together a wide spread otherwise disparate community. It should be protected; we’ll lose much more than a museum if it goes.”
Terry Faull said on the petition site: “The Whithorn Museum is a truly important guardian of the evidence for early Christianity in Britain and is a unique place and an inter-national treasure. It brings visitors to this part of Scotland from all over the World and it closure would be a tragedy and sad comment on the priorities of the Local Authority. Please continue funding it.”
Professor Gordon Maxwell said on the site: “Whithorn is one of the most important places in the early history of Scottish Christianity (on a par with Iona and St Andrews) and, as recent excavations have shown, a crucial piece of evidence in the demonstration of the complexity of the origins of the Scottish nation. These considerations alone should justify the continuing presence of the Trust’s activities and facilities in at least their present form. Any diminution of such operations would risk the loss of the investment already made in the history and archaeology of the region and, not insignificantly, of Scotland as a whole.”