As Northern Ireland begins to see positive signs of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has revealed the devastating impact of the closure on its finances and the potential impact on its Belfast-based attraction, HMS Caroline, which approaches its fourth anniversary since reopening on 1 June 2016.
NMRN, who operates HMS Caroline on behalf of the devolved Northern Ireland government, temporarily closed HMS Caroline, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, on the 17 March 2020 – to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its staff and visitors – in line with government advice. It also closed its sites in Portsmouth, Gosport, Hartlepool and Yeovilton.
Many UK National Museums receive 60% to over 80% of their total funding from the government. Whilst the NMRN is a National Museum, only 19% of its funding is provided by the UK Government with the remaining 81% having to be self-generated, leaving the museum vulnerable. HMS Caroline, which is operated in partnership with the Department for the Economy for Northern Ireland; therefore also becomes at risk, if the NMRN is unable to make up the shortfall in its funding.
Dominic Tweddle – The Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy says: “Many will have seen in the media the dire situation facing museums up and down the country but perhaps don’t realise that a National Museum such as ours, faces those same challenges. We have reached out to departments across the Navy, Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and have had great messages of support; but nevertheless the situation still remains precarious.”
HMS Caroline, a recent finalist of the 2019 Art Fund Museum of the Year, is an iconic ship and a living legend in Belfast, her home for 95 years. She is also the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland in 1916, the largest naval battle ever fought. HMS Caroline opened in June 2016 creating a new, non-sectarian space in the city where, for the first time, people can discover, enjoy and discuss the complexity of the ship’s histories. From being identified with a single community the ship, through volunteering and community outreach programmes; is now a site for all and an important part of Belfast’s tourist and hospitality economy.
Dominic continues: “When you step on board HMS Caroline you embark on a journey across one hundred years of naval history, we know that the relationship between HMS Caroline, Belfast and its people is special and that our work is integral in supporting the local economy.”
Since closure the NMRN has launched its #NavigatetheNavy campaign online, sharing content from each of its museum’s locations and its collections including HMS Caroline. As the fourth anniversary of the Caroline’s reopening approaches, a series of ‘Now and then’ photo’s will highlight the state of the ship before its refurbishment and how it stands today.
Speaking about the Museum’s team Dominic says: “We are incredibly fortunate to have a loyal and hardworking team of volunteers and staff who support us at HMS Caroline. Currently 91% of the staff at HMS Caroline have been asked to take furlough leave, something that has been critical in helping us manage our financial position. I can only thank them for their support in doing this.”