Thursday, February 22, 2024

WAR YEARS REMEMBERED MUSEUM IN FINANCE APPEAL TO COUNCIL

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THE charity hoping to bring Blair Mayne’s wartime memorabilia to a new museum in Newtownards, has appealed for almost £60,000 to safeguard the future of the project.

The War Years Remembered museum is to relocate from Ballyclare to a complex close to the Army Reserve Centre on the Crawfordsburn Road, bringing back to his home town the personal belongings of Mayne, one of the most decorated soldiers from World War Two.

However, to ensure the doors of the museum open to the public, an appeal has been launched for £57,000 to cover the costs of moving the collection and opening the centre.

Ards and North Down councillors, who heard of the charity’s plight at the December meeting of the local authority’s Community and Wellbeing committee, expressed support for the bid. A council official has been tasked to compile a report on the issue for consideration.

The centre, previously located in Ballyclare but which is temporarily closed, houses the special ‘Blair Mayne Family Collection’, gifted to the museum by his family, as well as a raft of rare wartime artefacts.

When the museum’s CEO David McCallion held a public meeting in Newtownards last June to persuade local people to get behind its move to the town, Blair Mayne’s niece, Fiona Ferguson said she would be ‘absolutely delighted’ for the collection to be brought to her uncle’s hometown.

She had stressed then its importance beyond the battlefields, stating it was a significant homage to life for people outside the armed forces, not just ‘about the guns and uniforms’.

In a deputation to the council, War Years Remembered officials said both time and money had run out for the charity and appealed for a one-off cash injection. 

Museum Trustee David McKee described the situation as ‘an emergency’ and said it was not seeking ‘sustained yearly funding, but a cash injection’.

He spelled out that it needed £12,800 to relocate from Ballyclare, £19,400 to renovate the new premises and £25,000 to cover overheads until it opens – £57,200 in total. 

Mr McKee said that without the council’s help, the charity faces bankruptcy and closure, as the current landlord ‘seeks repossession’ of the Co Antrim premises, imminently.

He envisaged that once in place in Newtownards, it would attract between 10,000 and 20,000 visitors a year, based on the popularity of council events the charity had collaborated on, including Armed Forces Day in Londonderry Park and at Ards Airfield.

Mr McCallion said if the funding issues can be resolved it is envisaged the museum could open on St Patrick’s Day or June 6, the 80th anniversary of the D Day landings.

Emphasising the special importance of the massive haul of war artefacts dedicated to Blair Mayne, he said it featured previously unseen journals and evidence of his scholarly pursuits, including the surprising discovery that he was involved in Arctic surveying.

He said the Blair Mayne collection also tells the unknown story of his sister Frances who also served in the armed forces.

Mr McCallion even proposed a future ‘Blair Mayne Walking Trail’ to enable walkers to travel a route once used by the war hero himself many decades ago.

Giving a brief history of his collection, which he started as a child and which was inspired by his grandfather’s wartime experience, Mr McCallion stressed that his museum would not detract from the Somme Heritage Centre, at nearby Conlig.

He said he could envisage a scenario of a school visit from Enniskillen for example, which would visit the War Years Remembered in the morning, ‘increase football in the town’ by having lunch, before visiting the Somme in the afternoon. 

“Our moving to Newtownards will do nothing but complement the Somme and enhance its visitor numbers,” he said.

Independent councillor, Wesley Irvine welcomed the museum’s move to Newtownards and said he would ‘put my full weight behind it’.

SDLP councillor Joe Boyle asked for figures for the projected annual income and overheads, and was told the expenditure would ve around £70,000 per year in Newtownards due to rent.

The income, estimated at £10,000 to £12,000, would be supplemented by a number of grants like Awards For All. 

Independent councillor Steven Irvine said he was also ‘100% behind you and good work’. 

Councillors asked officials to prepare a report on the appeal for funding which will be brought before the next committee meeting.

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