Councillor ‘disappointed’ over low art gallery visitor numbers

FEWER than 600 people visited Tameside’s one remaining public art gallery last year.

The Astley Cheetham Art Gallery in Stalybridge was open just 26 days last year and attracted 590 people.Councillor Oliver Ryan, who visited the Trinity Street gallery for the first time this month, said he was “disappointed” at the low visitor numbers.

Since the closure of the Tameside Central Library and Art Gallery in Ashton at the beginning of the year, Astley Cheetham is the only publicly funded gallery in the borough.

The historic central building has been converted into council offices, and the library facilities moved into the new multi-million pound Tameside One building.

But Astley Cheetham’s opening hours have since been increased to 17 hours a week to ensure residents have access to the exhibitions.

The borough’s executive cabinet has approved the museum’s plan for the next five years, including getting re-accredited by the Arts Council and accessing funding.

The meeting heard the borough has three cultural assets, the Portland Basin Museum, Astley Cheetham Art Gallery and the Museum of the Manchester Regiment.

Cabinet member for culture and heritage, Cllr Leanne Feeley said: “Museums are many things to many people, it’s an eye-opening immersive experience and it expands the general knowledge of residents.

“It’s really important to remember museums are not a place to be afraid of or to think they are boring – they are interesting exciting places.”

During the cabinet meeting, Audenshaw’s Cllr Ryan revealed he had never visited any of Tameside’s cultural attractions until he was prompted to organise a day trip after reading the report.

“I cannot praise enough Portland Basin, I don’t know what I expected but it was first class, it really was amazing,” he said.

“Astley Cheetham was equally really good fun. I was a bit disappointed in these figures that there’s not that many people that go and I feel like that’s a problem.

“I don’t think people knew about it. I’m from Tameside and I didn’t really know about it.”

Cllr Feeley said they were in discussions about plans to develop the gallery space and raise the gallery’s profile, which would aim to increase visitor numbers.

Cabinet member for health, and Stalybridge/Dukinfield ward, Cllr Eleanor Wills added that she would “fail residents” if she did not raise accessibility issues at the Astley Cheetham gallery, which dates from 1932.

Cllr Feeley responded: “Obviously we’d love to have a lift in the building.

“It’s quite complicated as it’s a listed building and would require significant investment but that is something we aware of. We’re looking for opportunities.”

But councillors heard that the collection at the Museum of the Manchester Regiment, which has been closed since 2015, will not be on show in full any time soon.

Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington said she was asked frequently when they were going to be able to display the collection while the old town hall was closed.

She told councillors that ‘people are missing’ it.

But director of operations and neighbourhoods, Ian Saxon replied: “Unfortunately at the moment, during the temporary period that the old town hall is closed we can’t display the collection.

“It’s safe, it’s secure and we look forward to getting it back on display but at the moment we haven’t got an offer in that respect and we haven’t got a facility that’s fit for that purpose at the moment.”

The refurbishment of the Museum of the Manchester Regiment forms part of a wider scheme for the development of Ashton Town Hall, for which capital funding has been requested.

But Mr Saxon said that they also look at the Trip Advisor ratings that they get for the museums, to gauge their popularity.

“Portland Basin is consistently in the top 10 attractions across Greater Manchester and the north west of England, so that’s the standard that we’re at,” he said.

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