Britain’s only museum of African and Caribbean history faces closure due to lack of funding

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

Britain’s only museum of black history faces closure unless the Government steps in to fund a massive cash shortfall.

The Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Windrush Square, Brixton has lost two-thirds of its income and could be forced to shut unless the funding gap is plugged.

Now more than 100 MPs – including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and two Conservatives – have written to Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright urging him to avert the centre’s crisis.

Mr Corbyn has also issued a statement backing proper funding for the 38-year-old museum, which has been in its new £7million home, the Grade-II listed Raleigh Hall, since 2014 and was visited by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as recently as February last year.

Leila Howe Hussan seen with a photo of her taken by Neil Kenlock at Expectations: The Untold Story of Black British Community Leaders in the 60s and 70s. 

The letter asking for an early response, after months of Department of Culture inaction, was co-ordinated by Dulwich & West Norwood MP Helen Hayes, and jointly signed by her and Streatham MP Chuka Umunna, with the other 100 MPs, including Conservatives Chris Walker and Jeremy Lefroy, SNP members and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas adding their names.

BCA is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, but has no core funding from the Government, and has seen its income drop by two-thirds in recent months to what the MPs say is “an unsustainable level”.

Four years of Heritage Lottery Funding has come to an end, resulting in the loss of two thirds of BCA’s revenue.

This has left Lambeth council as BCA’s major funder at a time when councils across the country are facing unprecedented pressure on their resources. statement from Ms Hayes said: “Lambeth Council is a long term supporter of the BCA and remains completely committed to continuing to support BCA, but cannot be expected to plug the current funding gap.”

Neil Kenlock next to his photograph of Barbara Grey at Expectations: The Untold Story of Black British Community Leaders in the 60s and 70s. 

Michael Ellis MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), visited BCA in June 2018 and agreed his officials would work with BCA as a matter of urgency to address its funding.

But BCA director Paul Reid has heard nothing since then, so has had to impose a comprehensive internal restructure to stop it going into debt. In the letter, the MPs said: “The BCA is a vitally important institution, which must be supported to address the current funding issues and to achieve a sustainable plan for the future.

“We are therefore writing to ask that, as a matter of urgency, you commit short-term funding to sustain the BCA and work with the organisation on a sustainable funding plan for the future, including the establishment of an endowment.”

Reid said: “We call on the broadest spectrum of society from local community, private sector, high net worth individuals, trusts and foundations, through to central government to join our #BackBCA campaign.”

Hayes said: “The BCA is an amazing organisation with a 30-year history, and its work has never been more important. In this Windrush 70th anniversary year, the Government must step in to place this national organisation on a sustainable financial footing for the future and #BackBCA.”

Umunna, who is also a patron of BCA, added: “Black Cultural Archives is a vitally important institution for the community, and part of keeping our heritage and history alive for the next generation.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall inspect an Army Cadet’s Guard of Honour during their visit to the Black Cultural Archives (B.C.A.), in Brixton, South London.

However, in this Windrush anniversary year, the BCA is facing a serious funding crisis. Repeated attempts to reach out to the Government have so far been met with inaction. The Government must act now, before it is too late and this vital pillar of the African-Caribbean community is lost.”

Councillor Lib Peck, Lambeth council leader, said: “We are incredibly proud to host the Black Cultural Archives, and have provided long-term financial support for this important national asset.

“In 2014 I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening of the BCA’s first bespoke premises, a Grade II listed former council building in Windrush Square, Brixton.

“Since then we have continued working with the BCA on important campaigns and projects; in the summer celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, and even more recently campaigning with the BCA on behalf of members of the Windrush Generation who had been wrongly denied citizenship.

“However the reality of deep cuts to our funding mean that it is not sustainable for the BCA to be funded by Lambeth alone. It is time for the Government to honour its commitments to the BCA and take some real responsibility for ensuring the future of this national asset.”

Corbyn said: “Black history is British history, and the Black Cultural Archives is a crucially important institution.

“I am very proud to be supporting the campaign to secure long-term funding so this institution can continue its fantastic and valuable work celebrating and teaching future generations about our history, in all its diversity.

“In light of the Windrush scandal, Black History Month has taken on a renewed significance this year. As the month draws to a close it is important we celebrate the immense contribution Black Britons have made to our country and reflect on the progress made towards equality, while committing to continuing the fight for justice.”

The BCA has an exhibition space; research facilities including reading room and reference library; dedicated spaces for informal and formal learning; secure and environmentally controlled archive strong room allowing it to continue to safeguard its collection for future generations; café and shop; courtyard for outdoor eating and special events and spaces for events, seminars, meetings and community use.

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