Thousands support campaign to save People's History Museum

(Originally Published by Equal Times)
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The People's History Museum. Photo by Bernard Randall
An online campaign to save the only museum in England documenting the history of working people has received mass support following news that it faces £200,000 cuts in government funding.

In 2010 the Coalition government announced that it would cut funding to a number of museums across the UK. Among them is the People’s History Museum in Manchester which faces 20% cuts by 2015.

The museum contains a collection of printed material, physical objects and photographs which celebrate the lives of working people and documents the history of democratic movements in Britain over the last 200 years. 

Its staff have been seeking alternative sponsorship but with the cuts fast approaching there are concerns that they may not be able to make up the shortfall in time. 

Melissa Bassil, a supporter of the museum who created an online petition on the website told Equal Times the government should seriously consider reversing the cuts.

“Not only does the People’s History Museum tell our history but it can help inspire future generations to realise that they can get together, they can make a difference and workers shouldn’t be fighting each other for scraps at the bottom they should be uniting and making a difference.

“We can afford to support to support all our cultural institutions and the vast majority of people wouldn’t notice the difference in their pockets. I do hope it [the petition] creates enough interest so that they will look at their decision again.”

The petition, titled ‘Restore funding to the People’s History Museum’, was launched two weeks ago and has received over 7000 signatures. Bassil is aiming to reach 10,000 signatures at which point the petition will be presented to Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture Communications and Creative Industries.  

Among those supporting the campaign is Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, who recently wrote an article in the Guardian strongly criticising the government.

The proposed funding cut for the museum is a blatant attempt by the Tory party to rewrite history in its own image, to stop future generations from learning what their great-grandfathers sacrificed in the name of their country,” he wrote.

“…We must defend the People’s Museum from the Tory-led government’s malicious and politically motivated attack, and safeguard the one museum dedicated to telling the story of us all.”

McCluskey’s article followed a report in the Independent newspaper in which the museum’s deputy curator, Cath Birchall, suggested funding had been cut in response to an exhibition showing how the social conditions of working people were transformed by the First World War. The government, she said, failed to “see the importance of a national museum that shows the effects of the war on ordinary people...”

However, the government denies its motives are ideological and the museum has subsequently distanced itself from these claims. Katy Ashton, director of PHM, told Equal Times the museum is now working to gain revenue from other sources such as commercial activities and donations, but is grateful for the overwhelming public support the campaign has garnered. 

“It’s been a phenomenal response in terms of the number people who have got behind it and we really appreciate that support and we’re really keen for people to continue to support the museum in any way they see fit.”

“The Museum has a real connection to ordinary people’s lives. The stories that we tell are about ordinary working people and how those people have fought for something they believe really strongly.  We’re the only museum in this country which is about the development of democracy and people feel very passionate about supporting a story which is to do with people power.”