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Hampshire Cultural Trust says Forest Arts Centre, Red House Museum and Rockbourne Roman Villa are safe from axe despite funding cuts

The threat of closure has been removed from a New Milton arts centre and Christchurch museum after the charity which runs them announced it could shut five venues elsewhere in Hampshire.

Hampshire Cultural Trust, which runs New Milton’s Forest Arts Centre, the Red House Museum in Christchurch and Rockbourne Roman Villa in Fordingbridge, has announced that all three local venues are currently safe, despite a reduction in funding from Hampshire County Council.

In October it emerged the Winchester-based charity – which operates 24 museums, galleries and arts centres – faced losing almost half of the £2.5m a year which it receives from HCC.

Forest Arts Centre in New Milton
Forest Arts Centre in New Milton

However, this figure has since been revised, with HCC now proposing a funding cut of £600,000 a year by 2027. According to Hampshire Cultural Trust, this means five proposed venues could close under a phased plan over the next three years.

These are: Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham, by the autumn; Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham, in January 2025; Eastleigh Museum by January 2025; Andover Museum and the Museum of the Iron Age in 2026; and the Curtis Museum, Alton, in 2026.

Red House Museum in Christchurch (picture: Google)
Red House Museum in Christchurch (picture: Google)

Hampshire Cultural Trust chief executive Paul Sapwell said: “Our position is that we do not want to close any of the venues we operate. But faced with substantially reduced local authority funding, we have had no option but to make some very difficult decisions.

He continued: “We intend to mitigate the full effect of the funding challenge through a wider business plan that includes potentially taking on new, more financially sustainable venues, as well as growing existing areas of our business.

“However, new opportunities and growth cannot fully offset the reduction in council funding currently proposed and some venue closures will therefore also be necessary.”

Describing cultural attractions run by the trust as “essential to the identity and fabric of Hampshire”, Mr Sapwell warned: “When times are tough, cultural experiences are so often seen as a ‘nice-to-have’, but stripping out what keeps people happy and healthy only saves money in the short term; it is well recognised that the pressure on health and social services only increases when services contributing to quality of life are cut.”

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