Underused museum set for £4.4m revamp

Vestry House Museum currently costs the council about £18 per visitor each year, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Vestry House Museum (credit: LDRS)

A Walthamstow museum that currently costs the council £18 per visitor is set for a £4million refurbishment.

Since June last year, architecture firm Assemble has been working on plans to “revitalise” Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow Village. 

Housed in an 18th century former workhouse, the museum tells the history of the borough through exhibitions and an extensive archive of objects, artworks and photographs, which take up approximately a third of the building.

However, it currently only receives around 22,000 visitors each year – a mostly older group that does not reflect the borough’s diversity – and costs the council about £400,000 to run.

After receiving £17million from the government’s Levelling Up fund to “unlock Walthamstow’s potential” as a cultural destination, Waltham Forest Council has committed £4.4m to revamping Vestry House. 

An artist’s impression of plans for Vestry House Museum (credit: WF Council)

In an online meeting last week, the council’s head of creative engagement Hadrian Garrard said the new vision is a “space where heritage meets innovation”.

The archives will be digitised and relocated to another location in the borough, while on-site “cultural partners” will use the space for activities “inspired by the museum and heritage collections”.

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Hadrian said the online meeting was only “one step” of public engagement, before the council’s cabinet decides the next step in “April or May”.

He added: “There are still things to be resolved and worked through, this is about setting the direction of travel that is best for the Vestry House Museum.”

The council’s target is to raise the number of visitors from 22,000 to 60,000 per year, placing a new focus on school groups and hosting 150 free events.

Some of the 800,000 objects in the museum’s archive could be displayed in locations across Waltham Forest, such as the Pump House Museum, Chingford Hub, libraries or the town hall.

Vestry House Museum (credit: LDRS)

The museum will also set up a community advisory panel to “restructure” its relationship with local history groups who have “done so much in the past”, the head of creative engagement said.

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the Waltham Forest History and Heritage Network told the Local Democracy Reporting Service they were “grateful for being informed” about the proposals for improving the building.

They added: “We also welcome assurances that those interested in and knowledgeable about Waltham Forest’s history will be kept regularly informed about the plans for changes to the Museum.”

However, WIILMA Community Voices stated the online meeting was “controlled and stage-managed” and questioned why they had not received any updates on the plans for “well over a year”.

Questions and feedback about the plans can be submitted here.

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