The average person is being priced out of bettering themselves and gaining an education

Do we want to live in a society that can’t afford to offer its citizens culture, free and readily available?

Do we want to live in a society that can’t afford to offer its citizens culture, free and readily available?

I work for a major city museum in one of the North’s biggest cities. It’s funded by the local authority and is the flagship site, located in the city centre.

It attracts two to three thousand visitors per day on a Saturday and Sunday and up to nine thousand in an evening for certain special events. It runs free children activities every weekend and throughout the summer holidays, all aimed at educating children in a fun and interactive way.

We have a team who works with deprived and marginalised community groups to increase their awareness of the city and make them feel like a valued member of the city as a whole.

And all of these services are free.

It’s a wonderful place to work and it is being quickly dismantled due to local government cuts. Administration, security, curators and those involved with organising and running those children’s activates are all being made redundant or having there hours shaved considerably.

Yet the authority expects us not only to maintain our current output but increase all aspects of it, with staffing levels due to run at bare minimum and sites to be opening less once our most recent restructure comes into effect.

Museums, art galleries and libraries seem to be viewed as the ultimate ‘soft service’ at the moment and fair game. My wife works for the NHS – I know how terrible those cuts also are and they are costing lives, believe me. I don’t think what I do or the museum I work for is as vital as the hospital she works for.

But I also think dismissing and undervaluing the vital role museums, galleries and libraries play in a community, especially those in the north which get so little investment as it is, is wrong and deeply unfair.

I often look at some of these children and young adults and I wonder what the future has in store for them. The education system in this country is in crisis, not due to hard working teachers, but the actions of a minister who seemed more focussed on gaining either a plum job at a right wing newspaper or a better government job.

The welfare of our futures generations or the opinions of those who teach them have been completely ignored. Even if those children attain the grades needed to go to a top university, will be faced with intimidating fess to pay and debt for years to come.

The average person is being priced out of bettering themselves and gaining an education. At the moment however they can at least access libraries, galleries and museums in their local area.

In the young, it can plant a seed for how learning about different cultures, civilisations and life forms can be rewarding and fun.

In the old, it can be a link to their childhood and the city and region they remember growing up in.

And for families as a whole it is an excellent free resource for a day out.

Do we want to live in a society that can’t afford to offer its citizens culture, free and readily available? I suspect most would say no; yet the way things are heading I suspect it could be a foregone conclusion if work forces throughout the heritage sector in the UK don’t work together.

The work forces within the heritage sector are inherently left-leaning from my experience, yet I feel many of them now feel neglected by the labour movement. I’ve won a few small battles as a shop steward, but at the moment my members feel we are losing the war, and fear they will be replaced by volunteers or their heritage sites shut completely.

Hopefully, however, the inventiveness, creativity and compassion which I know is a hallmark of those who staff our heritage sites, from top to bottom, can still shine through and we can present a unified front moving forward.

I feel it’s now or never for public services as a whole to either stand up and take on these cuts or become demoralised and give in. I hope my fellow heritage workers can play a large part in that fight when it comes.

Paul Burton is a museum worker

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