St Bede museum attraction to close

19 February 2016

ANDREW CURTIS

Evocative: reconstructed Anglo-Saxon buildings, at Bede's World, pictured in 2010

Evocative: reconstructed Anglo-Saxon buildings, at Bede's World, pictured in 2010

A FINANCIAL crisis has forced the closure of a visitor attraction that celebrated the life of the Venerable Bede and the twin medieval monastery sites of Wearmouth-Jarrow, in north-east England.

The museum Bede’s World, in Jarrow, closed its doors unexpectedly last Friday, apparently after its main backer, South Tyneside Council, refused fresh funds to keep it going. All 27 staff at the site, which stands beside St Paul’s, a seventh-century church, will lose their jobs.

This week, however, the chairman of the trustees of the charity which runs the attraction, Mike Smith, said that he hoped it would reopen “in the coming weeks”. A new body, he said, would take over, with a different constitution that would allow it to access new funding sources.

“It’s not terminal,” Mr Smith said. “The process is now under way to try to transition to a new beginning under a different trust arrangement. That will allow it to go to different sources of revenue, specifically around education and apprenticeships.

“Bede’s World has been successful in developing its community and social integration, and educational provision, and its onsite development of opportunities for people to express their talents, whether it be glass-making, farmers, boat-builders, and other things. There is a lot to fight for.”

He said that South Tyneside Council had been a staunch supporter for a long time, and, this year, it had provided grants over and above its core funding. But reductions in central-government grants had already forced two budget cuts. “That was probably the final straw,” he said.

The £9-million Bede’s World complex includes an 11-acre Anglo-Saxon farm, complete with animals and replica buildings, and a museum opened by the Queen in 2000, which was the first in the UK to have its own radio station, Radio Hive. It was also part of a failed bid launched in 2011 for the Wearmouth-Jarrow monasteries to be declared a world heritage site.

The closure provoked a swell of support on social media, and Hildy Harland, aged 26, a performer who started her career as a volunteer entertainer at the attraction, launched a crowdfunding project to raise money for it. She told the Newcastle Chronicle Live: “Bede’s World was at the heart of our community. I want to be able to raise as much funds as possible for both staff, who will be struggling, and to help with the reopening of the museum.”

A spokesperson for South Tyneside Council said that it was looking at a range of options — “most importantly, to find a more affordable way to keep the facility open in the long term”.

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