Talk of the Town: Support for London Museums in the pandemic

Visitors have donated their would-be entrance fees to help West London museums ride out the economic storm of coronavirus, writes Julia Gregory.

London’s smallest museums are particularly hard-hit by the crisis as they don’t always have big financial reserves.

Fans of the popular Victorian Arts & Crafts style usually beat a path to the door of Emery Walker’s House beside the River Thames in Hammersmith.

It’s believed to be the most authentic Arts & Crafts home in Britain and has hand printed wallpaper designed by famous Hammersmith resident and giant of the Victorian art world, William Morris.

Lucinda MacPherson said the Emery Walker Trust which took over the house in 1999 is looking at the financial help available to museums and galleries.

She said: “Our usual visitor numbers and income from tickets and gift shop purchases for this period have been significantly affected, going from 90 per cent bookings to zero.”

However she said many people who were looking forward to visiting this spring have donated their entry fees to the trust.

Lucinda added: “We are encouraged and thankful to our visitors who had booked tickets during this period, as many have requested to be notified when we reopen so that they can rebook their tickets and many have kindly donated their ticket purchase to our organisation.”

Many of the 22 volunteers who help at the house are keeping busy by making content for the Emery Walker House Trust’s social media channels and updating our online catalogue.

One volunteer Katie Hinchliffe is even posting songs on social media to lift people’s spirits.

There’s a very special museum in Mayfair which celebrates not just one, but two, internationally renowned musicians – the composer Georg Frideric Handel and the rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Separated by 200 years, the music icons both lived in flats in Brook Street which is now a museum to both of them and often resounds to their music. About 20,000 visitors a year pay about £150,000 between them in admission fees at the museum.

The museum’s commercial and marketing manager, Sean Doherty, said about half of their visitors come from overseas, especially America “because of the Hendrix link”.

Handel, who composed such rousing music as the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah, is also a big hit in America, he said.

The atmospheric museum also attracts many visitors from Western Europe, including Italy and Spain.

“Financially this is a massive shock for us. But we are in a weird position as a small cultural organisation we have been fundraising for a big capital project so we have money in the bank,” said Mr Doherty.

The museum plans to transform its ground floor shop into more space for visitors.

Mr Doherty said the museum has not furloughed its staff and said three quarters of people who had booked tickets for events which were cancelled because of lockdown donated them to the museum instead.

“It means we can claim it as Gift Aid and people have offered to postpone their tickets which is really handy,” he said.

“We took the decision to keep paying the musicians as it is a hard time for them.”

Instead of performing to an audience the musicians are uploading performances to the museum’s website when they were due to play.

Mr Doherty said the museum was in a secure position with several months’ money in a contingency fund, but no one quite knows what life will be like after lockdown.

“We are looking at Arts Council’s support to help pay the freelancers we use,” he said.

“The response from museums has been amazing.

“We are putting up content for families and children and getting much on the website.”

And it has shared some lockdown tips taken from Jimi Hendrix’s life where he spent time practising and listening to music to perfect his own when he lived in the small flat in Mayfair.

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