Museum Man Moves On

TUESDAY, January 8, was an historic date in the life of Dr Ian Friel the day he started his new job at Chichester District Museum after almost a decade at the helm of Littlehampton Museum.

He has left Littlehampton with a museum building and collection the envy of many larger towns, an achievement all the more remarkable given the museum s own chequered history in that time.

From facing the threat of the museum closing just months after he joined the staff, Dr Friel has overseen the transformation and extension of the premises.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sad to be leaving a place which has stamped a lasting impression on him, Dr Friel is nevertheless excited by his new challenge as principal curator at Chichester.

"I will really miss working here, and particularly the people I have worked with, but I am really looking forward to the new job. Chichester s is a somewhat larger museum, in a well-known, historic city, and there are various plans afoot to develop the museum."

His first few months are unlikely to be as dramatic at Chichester as was the case at Littlehampton, where budget cuts by Arun District Council, then running the museum, put its future in doubt soon after Dr Friel started in May, 1992.

"I must admit, I wondered what I had got into! However, Littlehampton Town Council saved the museum. If it hadn t, the museum would have probably disappeared seven or eight years ago and the collection would have been dispersed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The museum has had some real ups and downs in its history, but it is the second-oldest local authority-run museum in West Sussex. The work of decades would have vanished if the museum had closed, and the town would effectively have lost a big part of its history."

Instead, the town council agreed to manage the museum on behalf of Arun under a 25-year agreement from October, 1993, with staff transferring to the town council.

Any new additions after that date have become part of the town council s own collection, and Dr Friel welcomed reports that Arun wanted to transfer ownership of its part of the museum collection to the town council.

"This is a very generous and public-spirited move and should be applauded," he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dr Friel considered the museum s refurbishment and extension during 1999 and 2000 to be the most significant chapter in its history since it first opened as a purpose-built addition to the town s library in 1928.

The transformation from cramped premises, displaying only a fraction of the collection, to attractive new galleries fit for the 21st century and showing off far more exhibits, was funded by 500,000 of Heritage Lottery grant and a further 166,000 investment by the town council, which itself benefited from much improved offices.

But the museum is much more than its collection and during Dr Friel s time, several new initiatives have expanded its horizons. These have included the development of a community arts programme, outreach work involving more than 400 talks to schools and community groups and a major expansion of the educational service.

For the full story, see the Gazette, January 10.