Historic Wisbech museum to charge visitors for first time in century amid financial 'crisis'

The museum is one of the first purpose-built in England Credit: ITV News Anglia

One of the country's first-ever purpose-built museums has announced it will have to charge admission for the first time in 100 years to try to stay afloat.

The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is home to an array of historic treasures, including a handwritten copy of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations.

But the chairman of the museum, Steve McGregor, said it was in a financial "crisis".

It has been forced to take action in the face of a £60,000-a-year shortfall in the income needed to pay its annual running costs of £90,000 from next April.

Under-16s and those in full-time education will still be admitted for free, but from May adults will be charged £5 on entry, which buys a season ticket to return free for a year.

The 1847 building is Grade II listed and has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Credit: Wisbech and Fenland Museum

"We are really concerned as to the future of the museum and how it's going to look in 12 months' time," Mr McGregor told ITV News Anglia.

"If we can't raise sufficient funds to keep it going, access will be restricted or finished altogether as far as the public is concerned. That's the very last thing we want to happen.

"It would be an absolute tragedy for the whole area. We are absolutely unique. In my view we are not an ordinary town museum."

The building, dating back to 1847, is of exceptional significance and has been given Grade II* listed status.

Just two years ago, the museum received a grant of more than £600,000 for vital repairs to the building from Historic England.

Although the building has been refurbished, the museum itself, an independent charity, is facing a huge funding shortfall.

It has now launched an urgent appeal to local individuals, businesses and organisations to pledge what they can spare to keep it afloat.

Visitors from as far as Australia and Canada have popped into the Wisbech museum. Credit: Wisbech and Fenland Museum

“Quite simply, even with admission charges, we can't survive in our present form beyond this financial year," Mr McGregor said.

“We have won one-off grants for capital projects like the recent magnificent refurbishment, but we can't use a penny of that money to keep the lights on, our collections curated or staff paid."

The museum has launched two new schemes - the Patrons' Scheme and the Supporters Circle - through which people can pledge varying amounts to support it.

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