Manchester museum in crisis as attendances fall

The cash-strapped Manchester Jewish Museum has launched a survival appeal in the wake of falling income and attendances.

Annual visitor numbers have dropped from 15,000 to an estimated 11,000 for 2009 as squeezed educational budgets have reduced the number of school parties on which the museum relies heavily to meet its £140,000 running costs.

In 2003, 500 school groups visited the museum. Last year, there were 350 and the decline is continuing. The museum charges £2.95 per pupil. It attracts few visitors from the local Jewish community.

After the grant it receives from Manchester City Council, there is a £5,000 monthly shortfall. Two redundancies this year reduced the payroll to five. If the current situation persists, cash reserves may only last 18 months, raising the spectre of closure.

Director Stuart Hilton is pinning his hopes on getting 1,000 people to pledge £5 per month. “I wonder if the community as a whole appreciates the important educational service, interfaith work and strong stance against racism and intolerance which we undertake for all members of our society.”

Added chair of trustees Anne Millan — whose father Michael Taylor helped found the museum as Manchester Lord Mayor in 1984: “We desperately need the support from everybody who has got a connection to Manchester.”

The museum has won government and other education awards and is considered the region’s top venue for pupils from other faiths to learn about Judaism.

It attracts school groups from across Greater Manchester and Yorkshire and its popularity spawned a partnership with Manchester College to develop an experimental social cohesion curriculum, which is due to be trialled in schools next year.

It also teaches emergency service personnel and hospital staff about the Jewish religion, but, again, budgetary issues have halved the numbers attending.

Bury South MP Ivan Lewis is to meet museum chiefs in the next few weeks to discuss the crisis. “The museum has been at the cutting edge of interfaith work and building bridges between different communities,” he said. “It would be a tragic loss if it had to close.”

Last updated: 4:14pm, December 3 2009