Sudbury: Fears voiced over Gainsborough museum’s future as director post axed

FEARS have been voiced for the future of one of Suffolk’s top museums after it emerged the organisation had axed one of its director posts in a bid to save cash.

Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury is the only artist’s birthplace open to the public in Britain and displays more of Thomas Gainsborough’s work at any one time than any other museum in the world.

However, in a shock announcement, the trustees of Gainsborough’s House Society which runs the house revealed their director Diane Perkins had left amid concerns for the museum’s “viability”.

They say in order to “reduce fixed overhead costs”, the society would have to rely “more on the flexible involvement of its trustees, volunteers and external advisors”.

The move comes just weeks after it emerged three members of staff - including its chief executive Robert Benton - were being let go at Sudbury’s Quay Theatre.

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Ms Perkins had been director at Gainsborough’s House, in Gainsborough Street, since 2004 and in that time has overseen its restoration and development.

Brian Moody, chairman of Gainsborough’s House Society, said: “Diane has made a valuable contribution at an important time in the house’s development.

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“We have made this decision with regret but with the long-term objectives and sustainable viability of the house in mind.”

Funding for Gainsborough’s House comes from a range of sources including Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council, Sudbury Town Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In recent years, the charity has seen its income drop from the �551,543 it reaped in 2006 to just �368,564 in 2010. Nearly �160,000 was spent on staff costs in 2010.

County Councillor for Sudbury John Sayers, who was also a trustee for the museum until last year, said he was very concerned about the losss of Ms Perkins.

“It is like having a ship without a rudder. She has been a key player in the success of Gainsborough’s House in recent years.

“We’ve got this cultural asset which we need to protect. I fear it will go from being a living museum to a stagnant one.”

However, Mr Sayers added the museum did face significant funding difficulties and would find local authorities ill able to help out.

“Our budgets on the council are very tight - I don’t know where the museum will be able to find money.”

Former Sudbury mayor Peter Goodchild said Gainsborough’s House was an important part of the town’s tourism draw.

No changes are planned for the museum’s opening hours.

Christopher Lloyd, chairman of the exhibitions committee and former surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures will advise on the curatorial aspects of the museum while other trustees will “guide day-to-day activities.”

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