Delays to work on Launceston’s historic Lawrence House have called into question the future of the town’s museum — but the mayor assures the service will continue.

Essential repair work to the building has been ongoing, longer than was initially anticipated. Volunteers have worked hard to ensure the museum continued to provide local history, in the form of a pop up in Merchant’s House in the town centre. 

However, as work continues one volunteer has questioned whether the end is in sight and what the next steps will be.

A meeting was held recently between the volunteers and the mayor and clerk to clarify the current position.

In response Cherry Warne, who said despite remaining volunteer Lawrence House Museum publicity officer until August 31, the views expressed in her letter sent to all councillors were entirely her own.

In it she said: “Does Launceston Town Council want a museum or not?

“This is the question that scores of volunteers who prepare exhibitions, act as stewards, carry out gardening at Lawrence House or otherwise help the running of the museum would like answered after Launceston Town Council decided to dispense with the services of a paid, part time curator who was both well qualified and had the respect and support of the volunteers.

“The town clerk explained what is happening to the building at Lawrence House which is let to Launceston Town Council on a full repairing lease and has had significant grant funding for extensive repairs caused by years of neglect culminating in ceilings collapsing when the building was unoccupied as a result of the pandemic.

“However, he said little or nothing about the future running of the museum which is the subject of a trust deed requiring LTC to use the building (apart from a residential flat, two lock up garages and the mayor’s parlour) as a museum

“Launceston Town Council was due to meet in July to discuss a paper suggesting that the museum could be run without a curator but with what is called a historic buildings manager. Unfortunately this meeting was cancelled and postponed until August. 

“I spoke to Alan Buckingham today. He was the first of the four trustees of the trust which created a registered charity nº276656 Lawrence House Museum in 1978. He was adamant that you cannot run a museum without a curator. The volunteers require direction. Without a curator the museum will lose its accreditations and if the charitable trust does not continue LTC will lose most of its sources of grant funding for repairs.”

She added: “Unfortunately some councillors see the museum as a drain on the council’s resources without understanding the social benefit of LTC having a museum for the benefit not only of visitors to Launceston but local people who want to learn something about local history. I hope that the majority of councillors will reject this proposal and advertise for a new part time curator although whether it will attract any suitable applicants is another matter.”

When asked for comment Mayor, Cllr Helen Bailey, responded: “The town council has no intention of closing the museum. After a lot of hard work by the Town Clerk and Officers of the Council grant funding was obtained to carry out repairs and renovations to Lawrence House, to ensure the future of the building which is listed, and the continuation of the museum collection being able to be displayed within it.

“During the renovations additional work came to light, these could not be ignored and this delayed the original schedule of works along with delay in some specialist materials needed to carry out some of the planned repairs.  As the house is a listed property work needs be done within strict guidelines and by specialist trades.

“All this takes additional time. But once the house has been repaired and council have agreed the way forward, the museum collection will be returned for future generations to enjoy for many years to come.”

Regarding the future plans Cllr Bailey said the council are due to receive a presentation at the August council meeting which will “explore the way forward”, to improve the experience of the museum, the layout of the building and content etc. If council agree with the plan – we can then move forward. However, this could not be discussed at this time due to council protocol.

This matter had been scheduled for discussion at the council’s July meeting, which was postponed.

Cllr Bailey added: “The council consider our museum to be one of the jewels in the crown of Launceston along with the House.  The volunteers are integral to the running of the museum and the house gardens and have done so for many years, with a great passion for the wonderful collection held on the towns’ history.  The Council appreciate all their hard work. They continue to do so with the “Pop Up” Museum in Merchants House currently and we look forward to working with them for many years to come when the Museum reopens when work is completed.”