4 Feb: Burgess Park again
Originally uploaded by Sladey.

Actually, this post isn’t about Burgess Park; it’s about another wonderful resource that is threatened with closure.

The Livesey Museum in the Old Kent Road is an old public library that was transformed into a children’s museum. It’s pretty small, so instead of having lots of things in cases, the staff create exhibitions based around a theme, such as Time or Numbers or Maps (the current exhibition). Local artists are invited to make ingenious and unique exhibits on a tight budget. So in the Maps exhibition, you have a mini treasure island, with ‘treasure’ buried behind hidden flaps that you have to find using a treasure map. Or you can climb into a little wooden taxi and “drive” around a 3D map of London that shows the museum and neighbourhood in relation to its surroundings.

Another favourite is a giant aerial photograph of Southwark. I and another engrossed parent spent ages trying to find our houses and the local shops.

Outside there is a ‘green garden’ with sculptures, a greenhouse made of old plastic bottles and a covered play area. it is always packed with happy, engaged children. Local nurseries and schools are always using the facilities to educate and entertain their children.

I’m telling you all this because I want to make the point that this isn’t some fusty old-fashioned place with glass cases and things inside them. Neither is it some pretentious little gallery, run by a little elite group for a little elite group. It’s a popular, lively local cultural resource.

We’ve recently heard that the council is thinking of cutting these museums in order to reduce spending. So, I sent a letter of protest to the councillors responsible for the budget, and got this reply.

Thank you for taking the time to email me.

At the end of last year the government announced how much money it is giving to Southwark council over the next 3 years. This represents over 70% of our funding and is therefore of crucial importance. For each of the next 3 years our government grant will rise by less than the rate of inflation. The result is that we will have to cut about £30million (roughly 10% of our budget).

We will do our best to cope with that scale of funding cut by absorbing cuts by making our organisation leaner and more efficient and eliminating waste. But with the best will in the world that will not get us close to meeting the target of £30m. We will have to reduce spending on services and the scale of the reduction is that we cannot justifiably exempt any one area of spending from consideration.

At the moment we are considering all our options including the Livesey and Cuming museums. Clearly we do not want to close or cut any service. But we cannot absorb a cut of £30m without a reduction in some services. If the museums don’t close then something else will.

There are no easy choices and I appreciate that whatever we decide will arouse some opposition (and since my daughter enjoyed her school trip to the Livesey recently I know first hand that it is a lovely resource). I hope however you can understand that we are placed in an unenviable situation where there may be no right let alone popular answers.

Cllr Nick Stanton,
Leader of Southwark Council

I’m not quite sure what to say about this. One of our local councillors pointed out that this administration had spent some £11.4m on publicity and consultants.

I know that the regeneration work in our area is patchy and botched. They seem to be concentrating on “popular” streets – ie, ones that have a lot of traffic.

I also know that the council tenants on the North Peckham estate frequently lose their heating and hot water, and have to phone a callcentreto register their concern. The call centre staff often get the message wrong, and will only send someone out if more than three people in a block complain.

They’ve closed down all the local neighbourhood offices, and recently spent godknowshowmuch re-working the interior of the award-winning Peckham Library. Not the public space, the council offices…

I also think this reply is a bit of a copout in that it blames the government for his administration’s budget decisions. Well, personally, I blame the council leaders. They shout an awful lot about Southwark being a cultural hub of London, but only as long as the culture is concentrated in Bellenden Road and Borough. Funding for local nurseries and playschemes is being cut, our schools are privatised “Carpet Academies”, and they wonder why children grow up alienated and bored?

Anyway, an enterprising soul has set up an online petition. So, if you are a Southwark resident, or you feel strongly about this, please sign up. I don’t know if it will achieve much, but…


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