Bronte Parsonage Museum hit by drop in visitors

Bronte Society president Bonnie Greer outside the Parsonage in Haworth. Picture by Tony Johnson
Bronte Society president Bonnie Greer outside the Parsonage in Haworth. Picture by Tony Johnson
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MANAGERS at the Bronte Society are confident of boosting visitor admissions to the Parsonage Museum after new figures revealed they dipped to under 70,000 last year.

The year saw a seven per cent drop in admissions from 73,830 in 2013 to 69,503 during a tumultuous 12 months which saw the departure of several key people including director Ann Sumner.

However, the Society claimed the drop in visitors was caused by the late reopening of the Museum following the relocation of the admissions area.

Russell Watson, honorary treasurer of the Society, who has written to members ahead of the annual meeting on June 6, said: “The operating income of the Society is heavily dependent on the number of visitors to the Parsonage Museum. In 2014 the Museum did not reopen until the third week in February due to the reconfiguration of the admissions area.

“Visitor admissions started slowly after this late opening, although they picked up later in the year.”

The new admissions area has allowed staff more time and space to encourage visitors to Gift Aid admission fees, so admissions income dropped only one per cent compared to 2013.

Total income rose to £864,000 compared to £733,000 in 2013, with staff costs up £31,000. Bequests and donations rose by £69,000.

Finance manager, Clare Dewhirst, is expecting visitors to increase as important bicentenaries approach.

She said: “Although the 2014 accounts show a small decline in visitor numbers, this is largely attributable to the fact that we opened later than usual in 2014 due to the improvement and relocation of the admissions area.

“Our general admissions income for the year exceeded budget, which was due in part to the increase in visitor participation in the Government Gift Aid scheme.

“We look forward to welcoming more visitors to the Museum in the coming months and years ahead as we prepare for the bicentenaries of each of the Bronte siblings.”

The news about visitor numbers comes as members prepare to elect a raft of new unpaid voluntary leaders onto the Society’s council.

A group of critics called the Modernising Group are expected to be elected. They include Harrogate-based Sir James Aykroyd, whose great-grandfather bequeathed the Parsonage to the Bronte Society.

The ‘modernisers’ have been calling for changes in the way the Society operates, claiming volunteers on the council are too involved in the Museum.

Sir James, former chairman of a whisky company, wants a “root and branch change in the governance of the Society”.

A governance review by consultants will be presented to the meeting next month.

Council chairman Alexandra Lesley told members that “highlights from the executive summary” will be presented but modernisers want to see the full report.

Members will be asked to back a motion that Bonnie Greer remains as President. She told members she was “proud and excited” to be President, saying it had been a “tumultuous time” since the last annual meeting.