York Museums Trust hit by drop in visitor numbers – but has plans to bounce back

Kirkgate in the York Castle Museum

Plans to tackle “challenging” financial times at York Museums Trust include scrapping free tickets for children who are not from York, increased admission prices and opening a shop or cafe in Museum Gardens.

The trust runs some of the city’s major attractions, including the Yorkshire Museum, Castle Museum, Museum Gardens and York Art Gallery.

But it has faced a difficult year, a City of York Council meeting heard.

The construction of the Shakespeare Rose Theatre last year had blocked the Castle Museum from visitors’ sight, leading to a loss of about £50,000.

Rehyann King, chief executive of the trust added that a reduction in council funding from £600,000 to £300,000 three years ago continued to have an impact.

Ticket prices increased

Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre last summer blocked the sight of the Castle Museum. Photograph: Anthony Robling
In a bid to balance the books, ticket prices were increased in April by £1 for adults at York Castle Museum and 50p at York Art Gallery and the Yorkshire Museum.

These increases were the first in four years at York Art Gallery and nine years at the Yorkshire Museum.

From October an admission fee will be introduced for children visiting the museums and gallery – but youngsters from York will still get in for free.

Ms King said:

  • This has been a challenging year financially. We suffered from a number of different hits financially. Probably if only one or two had occurred, we would have been alright. But we had five.

    We have increased our prices a little bit and we haven’t had any significant negative comments at all about that.

She said that this year the construction of the Rose Theatre had not blocked views of the Castle Museum and as a result, there has been no drop in visitor numbers.

She said the trust was looking at other ways to make more money, but that “major investment” was needed in the sites.

“There’s a potential in Museum Gardens for perhaps more retail and catering opportunities,” she said.

“But actually we probably need to do some quite major investment to make more of our assets.

“It’s hard for us to put a cafe in the Yorkshire Museum and that’s something people expect now.”

Fewer school parties

But she said events in Museum Gardens, like the proms and Christmas light show, do not bring in as much money as some may think because of the impact on venues that can be hired out, like the Hospitium within the grounds.

Cllr Fiona Fitzpatrick told the trust: “I’m really sorry that as a council we are not able to fund you to the level you would like. It’s very unfortunate; it’s sad that this is the case.”

The meeting also heard that the number of school visits to the museums has continued to drop, possibly due to curriculum changes and budget pressures, and the trust was working to attract more school trips.

Volunteers numbers have fallen but the amount of time volunteers give has increased, with 200 people giving more than 1,000 hours a month to the charity.

‘We must review our business model’

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After the meeting, Richard Saward, head of visitor experience at the trust, said:

“York Museums Trust looks after some of York’s award-winning attractions and heritage and it is our ambition to bring world-class exhibitions and events to York for both residents and visitors to enjoy.

“As a charity there has been a significant shift in the balance of the ways that we are funded, with visitor admissions now being the most significant income stream. To remain financially stable and continue to succeed in a competitive environment, as an organisation we have had to review our business model.

“From September, all our attractions will remain free to York children, but we will be introducing a small charge for children visiting the city.

“Combined with a range of discounts and community-driven projects, it is our aim to keep our attractions as accessible as possible while remaining financially stable as well as continuing to be an integral part of making York a world-class cultural centre.”