Culture vultures get steamed up over steam museum closure fears

Darlington and Stockton Times: UNCERTAIN FUTURE: The Head of Steam museum, in Darlington, home of Stephenson's Locomotion engine, faces an uncertain future UNCERTAIN FUTURE: The Head of Steam museum, in Darlington, home of Stephenson's Locomotion engine, faces an uncertain future

ENTHUSIASTS behind an unsuccessful campaign to save a North-East arts venue have indicated a willingness to try to help secure the future of another closure-threatened community asset.

Darlington Borough Council announced last month that funding for the town’s Head of Steam railway museum would run out after 2016, as a result of spending pressures.

The council needs to trim almost £14m from its budget over the next three years.

Darlington for Culture (DfC) fought in vain to save the town’s much-loved Arts Centre, which closed in the summer of 2012, as part of the last round of cuts.

The group fears the ‘internationally-important’ Head of Steam will go the same way as the Arts Centre, if a solution to secure its future is not forthcoming.

Cockerton Library will also close in 2016 if a rescue package cannot be put together.

DfC has consulted its membership on how to respond to the council’s budget proposals and has indicated a willingness to support community efforts to ensure the survival of both the Head of Steam and the library.

Chairman John Dean said: “While relieved that some elements of the arts budget are retained in the budget proposals, we are concerned that the town could lose an internationally important museum as well as a much-loved library.

“We realise that many important parts of community life need to be protected in these budget proposals, but believe that both the museum and the library, in their own ways, contribute to the wider cultural landscape of the borough.

“We urge the council to continue its efforts to save both from closure. DfC stands ready to help those efforts in any way we can.”

A statement on the group’s website added: “DfC is dismayed that Darlington Borough Council feels that, after 2016, it should no longer put any money into Darlington’s railway heritage or the only branch library in the town.

“We believe that the Head of Steam and Cockerton Library are best run separately, by those with the most enthusiasm and expertise.

“DfC is not suggesting running these valuable amenities, but will work hard to support others to take them over.

“However, DfC will only do this if the council plays its full part in ensuring these facilities don’t have to close in 2016.”

Council leader Bill Dixon said: “We share the determination to do all that we can to retain Cockerton Library and the Head of Steam Museum and welcome the offer from DfC to work alongside the council and other partners to explore options.

“We shall continue to work closely with residents and partners to achieve a successful result.”

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