Many museums have chosen to close their doors for an extended period, but guidance has been vague so far

Covid-19: Urgent demands to protect museum workers and our sector

17.03.2020
Museums Association statement on response to coronavirus pandemic 
As the coronavirus pandemic develops rapidly in the UK, the country's museums recognise that the safety of the public, museum staff and volunteers is paramount. Museums are taking all necessary measures to support public health and combat the outbreak. This means that many museums have chosen to close their doors for an extended period. However, guidance on what actions institutions should take has been vague and has left many institutions and individuals uncertain about what to do. We would welcome greater clarity from government on this point. 

We are also hugely concerned about the impact that the epidemic will have on the long-term health of the UK’s museum sector. Museums are a vital part of the UK economy and a major employer, as well as being vitally important cultural and scientific institutions which are crucial hubs for their communities. Museums also support a high proportion of freelance workers in addition to staff. In the current circumstances, the sector and its workers face an uncertain future. 

We are particularly concerned for the immediate future of hundreds of independent charitable museums, which do not have large reserves to fall back on. Prolonged closures will be fatal for many of these organisations. This would be a disaster – many communities would lose vital cultural resources, staff would lose jobs, volunteers would lose opportunities, collections would be put at risk and many local tourist economies would suffer a serious negative impact well beyond the current crisis. 

In light of the sector’s concerns, the Museums Association believes that the following actions must be taken: 

Advice and Guidance

  • Governments in all four nations should provide clear advice on whether institutions have to close; on what constitutes essential travel for workers and the public; and further information for staff and the public on social distancing. 

Emergency Funding

We are calling for a co-ordinated emergency package of support from governments, agencies and other stakeholders for the museum sector and those who work in museums. This should include:

  • Existing resources could be diverted towards a sector support fund
- DCMS should consider using the £120m currently earmarked for the Festival of Britain 2020 and the new £250m Cultural Investment Fund towards emergency organisational support. 

- Governments and the National Lottery Heritage Fund should consider diverting funding from new (not yet funded) capital projects and other programmes towards emergency sector support.

  • Targeted sector funding should work in concert with wider economic support packages. The UK government must create substantial Small Business Emergency Funding as soon as possible to support sustainable organisations with cash flow issues caused by the crisis. This must be available to charitable organisations. 
  • Governments in devolved nations should work closely with agencies, funding bodies and the UK government to ensure that this package of support is equally available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Museum Workers

Museums have a highly committed, but often low paid and precarious workforce. Government and funding bodies must take every step possible to ensure that museum workers are shielded from the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Museums and funders should provide clear guidance to protect their workers, volunteers and public from the coronavirus. Front of House workers and those who have had regular public contact should receive priority support. 
  • Museums and funders should honour existing contracts with freelancers and should consider how to continue these relationships throughout the current crisis.
  • Not all staff can work from home; if closures take place FOH staff and others should be given alternative duties 
  • Museums and funders should develop a plan to support the wellbeing and mental health of the workforce as it enters a prolonged period of institutional closures and remote working for personnel.  

Comments

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19.03.2020, 19:18
I would like the government to offer financial help for staff. I, and the majority of my colleagues, are on zero hours contracts. Our heritage service has closed until the summer, so we now have no income. As a lone parent, I have not only lost my income, but my tax credits as well, as I no longer qualify due to not working, with no definite end in sight.