I had this strange dream a few months back when Bromley Council decided to close Bromley Museum. David Bowie rode in on a white horse, he was wearing the green jacket from Bromley Museum’s collection that is currently on loan to the V&A. His make-up was very Ziggy Stardust, I’ll admit it was a bit of a weird dream, even the horse had matching make-up. He charged into the Great Hall at Bromley Museum and threw two bags of gold on the floor. He had come to rescue our museum.
David Bowie grew up in Beckenham, in the borough of Bromley, for a short time he lived in the same road as I did. I wrote a blog about his jacket and his origins. In my mind I secretly hoped he would save us. I even considered writing to him, perhaps he could leave a legacy to Bromley. An inspirational message that even in this quiet, green, suburban backwater something special and individual can grow.
Maybe we could set up the Priory as an arts and heritage hub, we could make music, fashion and art grow in this space. Hand in hand with understanding our history we could look to our future too. We could inspire generations of children, perhaps all it would take is a bit of money and a bit of investment. There is plenty of passion here, you just need to scratch under the surface to find it. I naively thought in my weird and hazy dream that David Bowie would give Bromley Council his money and his blessing. But now that I have been to council meetings and seen this process, I would say, no. Don’t give the council any money, they don’t deserve it.
Bromley, the largest borough in Greater London by area, will have an ‘exhibition space’ from mid 2016 instead of a museum for it’s 300,000 plus residents. No staff, no events, no collection policy. Museums have to grow and breathe and change if they want to live and inspire, not shrink and stultify in a glass case.
I have come to realise it is not even about a building. As much as I love the Priory it is a building with an old soul, it had a life before the museum came as a family home. With a careful caretaker it will have a different life after the museum leaves. But the museum in its 50th year will be rationalised and shrunk, hidden inside part of a library service that is in itself already under threat.
I don’t want David Bowie to ride in on his white horse even though it would be quite a sight, because ultimately it is not even about money. Oh, the council say it is, with an £11 million underspend in the last financial year and £130 million in reserve, clearly it is not. It is about having the will, the passion, the commitment and foresight to do something important.
In the heart of Bromley there is the old town hall, a beautiful building, grade II listed, built in 1906. Every time I walk past it, in my eyes I see an art gallery and community space, a museum, a fabulous museum cafe, I see youth music studios and choir spaces. I see David Bowie as a patron.
It may be idealistic and naive, a silly little dream, but I would rather cling to that than be defeatist. Bromley Council say tough choices have to be made on elderly care and support for children in need across the borough. How can they justify spending on a museum no one visits? I tell you, put a museum in the town hall and people will visit. Provide safe spaces, programmes, events and outreach and the well-being and mental health of the borough will improve, let alone job prospects and opportunities. All this will happen with the support of a vibrant, living heritage and arts community.
This beautiful, clean and green borough with its wide open spaces and middle class wealth is stifling and constricting. It is reducing and restricting Bromley Museum in its 50th anniversary year when we should be celebrating our history, instead we are mourning all that is lost. And what of that beautiful town hall? Well the council have sold it to a developer who will convert it into a hotel. I think that really is all I need to say about the aims and intentions of Bromley Council.
I went to the museum today for the last time, I have a lot bound up in that museum. No, it is not perfect, but for me it is where I began my volunteering journey, it opened up doors and put me on pathways I didn’t know existed. What I guess I am grieving for is that opportunity that won’t be given to anyone else. Sometimes you just don’t know where life will take you. I owe Bromley Museum a lot and it breaks my heart to see it close and become a display case.
Now the door has shut for the final time, rationalising the collection begins and I don’t even think David Bowie on a white horse can make any difference. It is time for me to say goodbye, no more Bromley Museum blogs, no more silly idealistic dreams, but I won’t ever say goodbye to the memories I have. So thanks Bromley Museum, you have been a teacher and a friend, inspiration and solace and I will miss you.