Museum experts face sack in cash blow

Two experts face redundancy after completion of a £384,000 improvement scheme at Swaffham museum because money for their salaries is running out.

Two experts face redundancy after completion of a £384,000 improvement scheme at Swaffham museum because money for their salaries is running out.

Museum manager and curator Kate Ayres and education officer Elaine Brown face the dole queue because three-year grants to meet their pay cheques expire next February.

Unless applications for new grants are successful, the museum will have to be run by unpaid helpers when it reopens early in 2007 after a two-year closure while the improvements were carried out.

Both officials have held their posts only since earlier this year following the retirement of the previous manager and curator and resignation of the education officer.

Town clerk Richard Bishop, who as museum company secretary has been responsible for helping to oversee the project, said: "The worst-case scenario will mean that the museum will have to revert to being run by volunteers."

He added: "It would be really sad to lose Kate and Elaine just as the building is coming alive. There is no doubt that having dedicated staff complements the work of volunteers.

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"If a grant is not forthcoming perhaps there is a local benefactor who will come forward."

The project's main contractors have now handed the building - part of the town hall - back to museum bosses after a revamp that included installation of new floors, replacement of rotten timbers, rewiring and new plumbing.

Work on the grade II listed building followed a £365,000 extension to the town hall that was completed early last year.

Volunteers are now working on interior decoration of the new-look museum and rebuilding shelving so that the first of several lorry-loads of artefacts still in storage can be moved back early next month.

New display cabinets are being specially made and it is hoped everything will be out of storage before the end of November.

Work is also in progress on a new exhibition room dedicated to Egyptologist Howard Carter, who lived in Swaffham and discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt 1923.

This part of the project is being funded by a £25,000 grant from WREN - Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd - and other grants have come from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as the town council.

The original financial award was part of a cash package worth more than £7m to 11 Norfolk museums.

Commenting on the official hand-over by the contractors, museum chairman David Butters said: "This is a historic day in the life of the town museum.

"It has been a frustrating time, living with the builders, but they have done a really good job and should be congratulated.

"There is still so much to do to

get everything ready for the

official opening and it is the infectious energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers that will carry us through to the end."