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May 18, 2011

Councils should accept what help they can get

In these financially straightened times, you’d think it would be in everyone’s interests if councils responded positively to any offers of help. So when communities in Strathaven and East Kilbride indicated that they were ready and willing to take some of the strain, why did the Council not only appear to ignore the offer completely, but also behave in a way that seemed almost designed to infuriate?

Lynda Nicol, East Kilbride News

COMMUNITY activists working to save their local museums have been left shocked by a decision by South Lanarkshire Council to clear the buildings of their exhibits. Both Hunter House Museum in Calderwood and the John Hastie Museum in Strathaven were earmarked last year by South Lanarkshire Council in their list of budget cuts required to save £25million this year.

Since then local groups and individuals, including the History Society, EK Development Trust and Calderwood Community Council in East Kilbride, and Strathaven Community Council and the Friends of John Hastie Museum in Strathaven, have been working behind the scenes to save the facilities.

South Lanarkshire Council had indicated they would be given the chance to come up with feasible proposals but earlier this month anxious residents in Strathaven reported seeing the exhibits being removed from the John Hastie Museum.

The council later confirmed they were removing the exhibits from both museums for “safe keeping”. This reason, however, has failed to appease any of the community groups campaigning to save the museums.

Raymond Burke, who is one of those campaigning to keep Hunter House Museum open, said he and other campaigners had been “shocked” by the council’s decision to remove the exhibits. The council were “eviscerating Hunter House of its contents in the same way as the Hunter Brothers would eviscerate a corpse” he said. He added he saw no need to remove the exhibits at either museum as community groups were determined their closures would only be regarded as a temporary move.

The East Kilbride groups have lodged a formal interest in the building with the council and have applied for funding for a feasibility study. They also plan to hold two community days to stir public interest.

Mr Burke said: “It sounds as if the council have made their decision about the closures already.”

Strathaven residents were equally furious at the council’s decision to remove the exhibits at the John Hastie Museum. The museum – housed in a Grade B-listed 18th century building – was bequeathed to Strathaven 100 years ago by local businessman John Hastie, who owned a licensed grocery in the town.

Campaigners said the council had promised Strathaven Community Council, historians and activists that they would not make a decision on the future of the building until June. Campaigners now claim that letters and requests for further talks have been ignored by council chiefs.

With the backing of the Friends of John Hastie Society, Strathaven resident and retired solicitor William Park said: “It is disappointing council chiefs have decided to clear out the museum before meeting with us so we can put our case forward to lodge a formal interest in the retaining the museum.” Retired community council liaison officer, Bob Currie, who founded the Town Mill Project, challenged the legality of the council’s decision, which had, he said, infuriated local people.

He added: “The building was a gift bequest to the town. The terms of ownership clearly prohibit any sale or change of use and it is not up for grabs. However, what is alarming is the undemocratic action of the council in having commenced removal of the local historic exhibits from within the museum without any consultation whatsoever with the townspeople and council taxpayers and the fact the museum and its collection was a deed of gift by the late John Hastie for the enjoyment of Strathaven locals and visitors.”

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council told the News this week: “The museum buildings have been closed therefore the exhibits required to be removed for safe keeping. Should the groups who wish to take over the running of the museums be successful in their application, negotiations will take place for exhibits to be displayed there once again.”