Statement regarding the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Devonport
With deep regret the Museum announces that we are intending to withdraw from our activity at HMNB Devonport from the start of April 2023. We recognise the national importance of the naval heritage in Plymouth and the importance of the work done across the city.
Unfortunately, we are unable to continue to support, or to make the required commitment to extend, our care of the historic collection at the Devonport Heritage Centre. We are unable also to step up to our stated desire to provide operational support to the volunteers of HMS Courageous in making the submarine accessible, or to actively support the associated plans for a future Cold War Centre.
This has been a difficult decision but, like many heritage organisations, the Museum is facing significant financial pressures in 2023/24 which is requiring challenging decisions. In reviewing our future budget on 25 January 2023 our Trustees took the decision that, in accordance with strategy, we must focus on the sustainability of current activities, and on existing development priorities, and not add further un-budgeted pressures.
The Museum has managed the Devonport Collection on behalf of the Ministry of Defence since 2017 without any additional revenue funding to support. We have been proud to take on a collection of 100,000s of archive and artefact items so assiduously assembled by volunteers and to invest in preserving the collection through a period of major change within South Yard. Our employment of a professional curator has raised standards and enabled the continued application of 10,000s of hours of volunteer time and expertise. We want to pay tribute to their work and stress that this decision is no reflection on them. At the end of our involvement, thanks to their efforts, we leave the collection better managed, better conserved, and better understood than before this investment.
However, at the point that the MOD is offering to transfer ownership of the collection outright to the Museum we find that the Museum is unable to make the major capital investment in buildings which is essential if the collection is to be preserved. Without the prospect of revenue to support activities we are unable to extend our staffing and take on the responsibilities and liabilities which come with ownership of the collection. With regret therefore on 21 February we have had to brief the Heritage Centre’s volunteers about our withdrawal.
We will continue to offer advice to the Royal Navy as it makes plans for the management of the collection without the NMRN, which will draw on our understanding of the Collection’s wider significance for both the history of the Navy and of Devonport and the region.
HMS Courageous and Cold War Centre
In October 2021 the Museum’s Trustees agreed to support Phase 1 of a project to preserve HMS Courageous and develop the feasibility of placing the submarine as the centre of a new Cold War Centre. This required the Museum in summary to:
- Support the operation of HMS Courageous by generating revenue from ticket sales and merchandise.
- Raise capital funding to develop into a capital Phase 2.
During the challenging environment of 2022 it has not proved possible for the Museum to find the additional funds required or offer staff support to the operations of Courageous, or to support capital fundraising.
Professor Dominic Tweddle
22 February 2023.