• benfilmer-sankey

Chairman's Blog July 2020

Updated: Jul 8, 2020


Welcome to the Chairman’s blog. This is the first entry in a new series that I will be writing regularly to keep you all up to date with what is happening in the Museum. I would not have guessed when I took over as interim chairman of the Museum last year of the events that would unfold and find me back as Chairman on a permanent basis.

As you know, one of my tasks as Interim Chairman was to recruit a new Chair for the Museum, and we believed we had found that person in Vicky Yannoula. However, sadly for both Vicky and the Museum her health deteriorated in a most unexpected manner and she made the decision to step down. As a result, the Board of Trustees asked me if I would step into the role on a permanent basis, which I have agreed to do.

I could also not have foreseen that we would have to close the Museum due to the Covid-19 epidemic. This could not have come at a worse time given that we were just starting to turn the corner financially as a result of the recovery strategy I had put in place. We now find ourselves once more in a difficult situation, and I have been working with all the Trustees to revise the recovery strategy. When we are all able to return to the Museum (more of this shortly) I will be inviting you all to a meeting where I will set out our strategy for the next three years, so please watch this space for further details.

The Board, ably assisted by Ginette, have been busy during the lock-down and I want to share with you some of the work that has been going on behind the scenes.

New Faces

I have been incredibly lucky to recruit two new directors on to the Board. Mark Blackwell joins as Financial Director; Mark is a professional accountant with his own successful practice, has a lot of experience working in the charity sector and has previously been involved in the Museum’s accounting and VAT procedures. Steve Barrett-White joins the Board as Director of Operations and Commercial Development. Steve has significant experience of business development in the charity sector but is also a professional sound recording engineer and has recorded most of the theatre organs in the UK over the years either for the BBC or for his own company. The profiles of both Mark and Steve can be seen on the website.

The composition of the Board is now Mark Blackwell (Director of Finance), Steve Barrett-White (Director of Operations and Commercial Development), Marcus Harborne (Director of HR, Health and Safety, and Tours), Mike Wood (Director of Conservation & Exhibition - Music Reproduction), Simon Hill (Vice-Chair and Director of IT & Technical Infrastructure) and myself (Chairman, Director of Music, and Director of Conservation & Exhibition - Theatre Pipe Organ). Michael Ryder remains on the Board, and David Goddard has retired. I would like to thank David for his superb work as Director of Collections. He did so much to move the collection forward by recruiting and organising a band of fantastic volunteers who together have made such a difference to the Museum. I'm delighted to say that David remains with us as an active volunteer.

We have also been joined by Ed Stannard as our Fundraising Officer. Ed has a strong background in fundraising in the third sector, and although he has only been with us a short time, he is making his presence felt. He is working two days per week at the present time.

Resuming Life at the Museum

The government has permitted museums to re-open from 4th July, with social distancing in place. Our Museum, like many others, has taken the decision not to open to the public straight away. We have undertaken risk assessments and are modifying our offering to maximise the safety of visitors, staff, and volunteers. To ensure we can deliver an entertaining and informative experience, it is anticipated we will not open the collection to the public before late August. We will have to wait for further government announcements before we can re-schedule our concert and events programme. Volunteering activity will commence for selected teams from 14th July. Watch this space for further details.

Phased re-opening of the Museum ready for late August

We are putting in place a plan to re-open the Museum in phased stages, as after almost five months of closure, the instruments in particular will need to be checked over mechanically, certain ones will need to be re-tuned and those under maintenance at the time of closure be brought back into action. Volunteers will be back at the Museum from mid-July to carry out this part of the plan which is expected to take about five weeks to complete.

Our extensive Covid-19 risk assessment carried out at the beginning of June has produced several necessary actions that are being put in place now and we have written our re-opening plan to implement these requirements. Our staff and volunteers are up to date with these details and some staff and volunteers will be on site from early July to start our preparations.

The cleaning and sanitizing of the MM will be starting in early August with all the necessary Covid-19 sanitisers, cleaning programmes, and the social distancing signage will be put in place.

Programme of Events leading on from re-opening

As an addition to our existing portfolio of tour offers of the General Tour, The European Influence on Mechanical Music 1780 to 1940 and The American Experience 1950 to the Present Day, we are developing a suite of entirely new visitor experiences which will include video clips of past music of many differing genres from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s all reflecting the excitement, the music, the dances and the artists, internationally and from the UK that brought entertainment to the general public. These will be narrated and interspersed with film, sound recordings and an illustrated guide. Our first one is being developed for introduction in the autumn this year.


The Museum started the year by installing 72 solar panels on the large roof of the building. This was made possible by a grant of £23,266.94 from the Heathrow Community Trust. Work commenced on 7th January and was completed exactly a month later, just in time to take advantage of one of the hottest and sunniest springs on record. Surplus energy feeds into the National Grid and the Museum’s carbon footprint and electricity bills have been significantly reduced.

On 17th March, with the increasing danger of Covid-19, the Museum closed its doors to visitors and volunteers. The impact on the Museum has been significant with all usual revenue streams from admissions, concerts, films, and dances disappearing. Arts Council England set up an Emergency Response Fund and a team at the Museum led by Simon Hill, working with Ginette Kentish and Mark Blackwell, applied for a grant of £35,000. We are delighted to announce the bid was successful and we have recently received the first instalment of £31,500 which will help us weather this difficult time. We owe a big thank you to National Lottery players who funded almost 90% of the grant. The Museum would also like to the thank our members and other supporters who have helped us by renewing subscriptions and sending donations.


Following the retirement from the Board of David Goddard, who has been responsible for the conservation of our extensive collection of instruments and memorabilia, Mike Wood has now assumed this role together with that of Exhibitions. Over the coming months, we are hoping to bring into use many instruments that through ‘old age’ have not been operating properly for some considerable time.

In addition, we will be refreshing the layout and collections in Galleries 2, 3 and Lamb’s Passage and displaying a new collection of instruments from the City of London Phonographic and Gramophone Society - CLPGS. Meanwhile in the concert hall, the long expected ‘Regal’ Wurlitzer pictorial exhibition is a top priority - it arrived just as lockdown hit us and is currently awaiting the return of our manpower (volunteers) to mount it on the walls.

As you can see, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming months. Keeping the collection in working order and mounting exhibitions takes a huge amount of volunteer effort. It is only a small part of the scope of what our volunteers do on a regular basis. Any ideas you may have for exhibitions are particularly important to us to help shape our future. If you would like to be part of this exciting challenge, we would be delighted to hear from you. If you would like to become a volunteer as well, then that would be wonderful and greatly appreciated. Please get in touch by phone or email (until we are fully open again), leave a message if necessary and someone will get back to you.

Digital Developments

The Museum has existed for over 50 years, and in that time the world has changed radically, both in terms of what's possible using technology, but also in the audiences that we can reach and the nature of the story we tell. I am therefore delighted to announce two key developments in the “digital” world which I hope will bring in many new supporters and new ideas and enable us to share our story more widely than ever before.

Firstly, the Musical Museum has started a YouTube channel, on which we will publish concerts, events, virtual tours and more. Our first video was rather impromptu, coming as it did on the date we expected to be performing the “Summertime in Paris” concerts, and also coinciding with the sad passing of Dame Vera Lynn. Simon Hill and Steve Barrett-White are working hard to make sure we are more prepared and better equipped for our next event – a live Wurlitzer concert in July. As you might imagine, I am busy rehearsing for this landmark event for the Museum, in addition to the Chairman’s responsibilities and my day job. However, this YouTube channel is such a significant step forward for us and I encourage you all to subscribe to it (this is free to do), as this will help to raise the profile of the channel – the more subscribers and viewers we have, the easier it will be for people to find us.

Secondly, we have launched a Patreon page (patreon.com/musicalmuseum) – this allows supporters to donate a small amount of money to our charity each month. In return, subscribers will get access to live streamed concerts, “behind the scenes” content and more. The income from this will help us continue to develop, conserve, and restore more of the collection, and bring the history of music reproduction to a wider audience. Again, I encourage you to subscribe, and to promote this to your friends and contacts – our financial situation is perilous, and a relatively small number of subscriptions has the potential to dramatically improve our outlook. The ability to reach out to new audiences in this way is one of the most significant developments in the history of the Museum and I am indebted to Simon and Steve for their technical brilliance in making this happen.

And finally…

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank ALL the volunteers for their continued support. Some of you have been coming in to check on the instruments and keep the collection in good order, to do essential maintenance work on the building and generally keep the place ticking along. Some of you, who shall remain nameless to spare your blushes, have also very generously sent in cash donations. These, together with the gift aid we can collect on top of the donations have added up to a significant amount. My grateful thanks to them and to anyone else who would like to follow suit. I cannot end my first blog without thanking Ginette for being there throughout the lockdown and keeping things together as well as being there to help me. I am extremely grateful.

I look forward to seeing you all soon and please do keep a look out for the live streamed concert toward the end of the month.

Stay well and safe and my best wishes to you and your families.


Chris Barber

Chairman and Director of Music

YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6N8WYjZ10QYrO5hYfZGdhw

216 views15 comments

Recent Posts

See All