Series about museums struggling to connect with a modern audience. Can new director Stuart Gillis stop the National Waterways Museum from sinking?
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It's coming. We're getting it. That takes me back to school days.
I wonder how many schoolboys nowadays
are taught the principle of an Archimedes screw.
In the north-west of England, there's a remarkable legacy from
the Industrial Revolution which helped change the entire world.
At Ellesmere Port across the water from Liverpool, there are
seven acres of locks and warehouses
which now make up the centrepiece of the National Waterways Museum.
It's home to over 60 narrowboats
and barges, some of them dating back to the 19th century.
These boats are lovingly tended to by an army of unpaid workers.
The bulk of the volunteers on the site are really like myself.
Boring old sods who've got nothing better to do.
I don't go into building bridges out of steel.
I'm not Brunel, I wish I were.
£3 then, please. Thanking you.
But a financial crisis has left the Waterways Museum
on the brink of closure.
These old boats aren't enticing the public in any more
and the museum is losing money.
Nobody is giving up, don't let any defeatist talk come in on this place.
You know, they're going to close us at the end of the year.
If there's any of that talk, it's absolute rubbish.
In my six months filming here, the museum's dire predicament
would bring out the best and the worst in everyone.
Hang on a minute, I'm not happy with what's going on here, stop that job.
They seem to have lost the plot.
At the moment, I should think it'll end with the museum closing.
In this series, I've set out to examine
how struggling museums are trying to reconnect with the British public.
I want to know how important is it that these custodians
of our nation's history are preserved for future generations.
You see the place is falling apart. Slate, it's come off the roof.
My first impression of the National Waterways Museum
is of a vast and beautiful site.
It's impressive -
there's the huge exhibition hall with over 100 displays.
And also a power hall
with beautifully restored diesel engines, used to drive boats.
But outside is where I notice the real problems lie.
Groups of retired men spend
their time trying to keep these boats from sinking.
But it's a thankless task.
This is what they call oakum. Little bits of string, rag.
You roll it and then you push it into the holes.
And when it gets wet it swells and blocks the gap up, hopefully.
I don't think it'll stop it, to be honest.
Plugging holes in this way is just a temporary measure.
The boats won't survive
unless they get craned out of the water and properly restored.
It's a far cry from its heyday when this port was at the very centre
of a busy junction between the Manchester Ship Canal
and the River Mersey.
Visitors can gain experience of the waterways first-hand
with a guided tour down the Shropshire Union Canal
on the narrowboat, Centaur.
Which side do you want, this one or this one?
Mel Caswell has just been taken on for the summer and is already
giving tours on the boat.
We're in Ellesmere Port, of course.
And to our left hand side
we've got the vast area that is the Stanlow oil refinery.
Of course, it used to go directly
on to the Mersey before the ship canal was built.
Oh, my God. There's always one!
I'm having a baby!
I tell you what, you're much better than yesterday's lot. Flipping hell.
Did you tell them that as well?
They were just awful. I mean, really. Like, the living dead.
# Looking at you my troubles are fleeing
# I'm admiring the view
# Cos it's you I'm seeing
# And the sweet honey dew of well-being settles upon me... #
When Mel's passengers look out of their windows, they don't
get a very picturesque view.
They're seeing what's left of a once heavily industrialised landscape.
Ellesmere Port was a vital hub that
linked factories and ports across Britain and helped to make cities
like Liverpool and Manchester
some of the richest commercial centres on the planet.
But the canal system was replaced by first the railways
and then the roads.
As a result, the buildings here were derelict for many decades.
But then in the 70s, a group of boat enthusiasts began
the process of restoring the site.
Over several years, they rebuilt the warehouses
and got the locks working again.
By the '80s, Ellesmere Port was a thriving museum
with one of the best collections of narrowboats in the world.
But in the last 20 years, it's lost its way. It's been short of money.
The boats began to rot and then sink.
The museum saw numerous different managers come and go
but none could halt the decline.
That is until six months ago, a new director was brought on
and he's taking the museum on a completely new course.
But Stuart Gillis is not a boat enthusiast
and he's just a fish out of water here.
You've never put that on, have you?
No, no! That's what Mike's trying to do, get me on here, you see.
So he's not an old sea dog, is he?
No, he's not. Definitely not yet, but he will be.
-Give him a bit of time.
-I can't believe you've not put one on.
Mike, how do I do it? Because he's got me looking an idiot.
He's not that well up on boats, is he?
We're gradually getting him there.
Don't worry, we'll work on him.
Of course, I always wear one of these when I'm on my word processor.
Stuart might be a novice when it comes to boats, but he's
an expert on museums and knows how to turn failing ones around.
He thinks the only hope of the museum surviving
is if it moves with the times.
Many of these museums were set up in the '70s when people could remember
their childhood in the '50s.
But as you go forward by more than a generation now,
that nostalgia for a childhood in the 1950s isn't there any more.
I don't think people are nostalgic for waterways in the same way.
Do you mean it's not relevant to young people?
Yes, if we're going to make it relevant it won't be on nostalgia.
We have to find something else to do it.
Stuart knows these changes need to be made fast before it's too late.
In the last year, the museum lost over £100,000.
If this continues, the site might end up being sold off
and the museum disbanded.
How grave a situation is the museum in?
Well, I think we're walking really close
to the edge, and it's one more step and you're into the abyss.
Some of these boats are the last of their kind.
If the museum does close, many are likely to be scrapped.
John is the boatyard foreman and he has
the depressing job of pumping these boats out on a daily basis.
What happens is because they're kept with no load in them,
all the seams dry out. Because it sits above the water.
And then when it does sink,
there are that many holes in it, it's like a colander.
John's angry because not much money has been spent on saving
these unique old vessels.
He takes me inside the island warehouse to show me
where the money has been spent.
These things here, they're fine, they're modern and that.
When they work. It's just not working.
This is the centrepiece of the museum.
It's a swish, new exhibition hall which cost around £300,000.
So what is it you don't like about this area?
Basically, what they did was gutted it.
All the cases and the cabinets had beautiful displays in,
they were just smashed up.
Just taken out and replaced with this...MDF.
What is it?
There you go, exactly. What is it?
There's no explanation of what it is.
It's not actually been finished off. It's a circular weir.
The reason it was here, there was going to be a projector with water
running down the hole... Well, you can see the projector, can't you?
This stove and the lights and all the little bits of brass
and some of these bits of Measham ware and that.
But they were all in a perfect, full-size replica of a cabin
that anybody could see, if you were disabled or anything
and couldn't get on a boat you could see it.
You could see what was actually inside them.
Now, that's what we've got. I think it's abysmal, I really do.
John believes if anyone can save the museum, it's the new director,
Do you think Stuart has been good for the museum?
I think he's brilliant. Yes, absolutely spot on.
If anyone will make a difference, I think Stuart will.
Stuart has won the staff and volunteers over
with his boundless energy.
He's on a relentless quest to raise the profile of the museum.
There was leadership in this.
There was leadership from us, from me, from the staff.
But there was leadership too from this volunteer group
and I began to change my view on what volunteers were.
He's identified projects which need investment and wants
to get potential funders on board.
The focus on skills and community
as outcomes in themselves and that we could use the restoration of heritage
as a vehicle to build skills
and build our relationship with the community.
What this has developed into
is the initiative that we're now calling the Heritage Boatyard.
Stuart's vision for a Heritage Boatyard is an ambitious project.
But this audience of directors from museums around the country love it.
Based in a disused area at the back of the museum,
it's going to be a fully functioning restoration workshop.
-It's the last hope for these listing vessels.
-What did you hear then?
-Did you hear that click?
Doesn't sound very healthy, does it?
-Have you met the new director?
Do you think he's doing a good job?
I think he's an excellent man, the right man for the job.
New blood into the museum with fresh ideas, if you like.
If these ailing boats are to be saved,
Stuart needs an army of people to work on them happily for no pay.
So he's launching a recruitment drive for volunteers.
One of the first to come forward is a former engineer called Paul.
Well, my real interest is engineering. I'm an engines man.
I'm really keen on Gardner diesels which is my ideal restoration job.
We'll be getting in touch with you very, very, very soon.
-Let's see how we can do this.
-I'll look forward to this.
A week after this, Paul is stationed in the power hall
where he imparts his knowledge of engines to visitors.
Straight to the propeller which is out there.
Three arms and that goes steadily round,
forwards, backwards depending on which way the blades face.
And really, this gives him ultimate control.
The power hall is a noisy, smelly place with over 20 working engines.
Some of the oldest are Gardners, which powered the canal boats.
The volunteer in charge is called Dave.
Dave has a team of about six other volunteers around him
and it's a close-knit bunch.
We're working on a Magirus, Magirus Deutz.
OK, you can start it rolling and I'll tell you what we're doing.
We're restoring engines to make funds for the museum.
This is a manifold. We check that things like this are true.
So we're cleaning up the manifold...
I get the impression Paul's knowledge of engines is being
questioned by his colleague.
It's a two-stroke which is air-cooled,
very much like your motorbike.
It has fins and Lee has taken off the cylinders
with all the fins on, which we're familiar with, which air-cool.
Oh, Phil. Sorry, Phil.
We know each other so well.
This component here...
Are we OK?
..Is a blower. If I hold it up you can see that there's
what you might think a jet engine.
It's propelling cold air through a hot engine
and the hot air then emerges.
If we move on to another part we're restoring... If you cut.
You know if I go like that,
you know that I'm going to stop and give you a gap. All right?
Makes it easier for you.
So this is the air intake filter.
This part, of course, we all know as the car alternator which generates
typically 40 amps at 12 volts.
Specifically, I'm a light engineer
so it's not just engines with me, it is clocks,
it is buses,
up to a certain weight of engineering.
I don't go into building bridges out of steel.
I'm not Brunel, I wish I were.
Volunteers are one way of saving money but the only real way
of saving the museum is getting more visitors in through the doors.
Most days, you could count on a few narrow boats through the locks.
Have you noticed all the girls drive the boats?
-All the steel - very difficult to wreck!
-See you later.
-And you. I think there are about another ten coming.
-I think about probably seven coming.
You're doing that with Marigolds?
Yes, cos I work with wedding dresses.
It ruins my hands if I get my hands all ruined on the boat.
So I always have to have my gardening gloves.
Today, boats are congregating
at the Waterways Museum for the Easter bank holiday festival.
Stuart Gillis thinks big events aimed at families
is the way to boost income. This event, over two days,
celebrates the history of the waterways.
It's attracted 60 boats from all over the country.
Stuart is here with his wife and three sons.
What can you see down there?
-You can see cheese? Where?
-No, we haven't got any cheese on this barge.
They live in Norfolk and since taking this job
at Ellesmere Port, Stuart has been enduring a 300-mile commute.
It's called the Billet Arm, this section.
But there is getting less and less of it...
Festival-goers on Mel's guided tour of the Shropshire Union Canal
are benefiting from her knowledge of the waterways.
This used to belong to
the Wolverhampton Corrugated Iron Company. And they came here in 1905.
Here is the swan, perfectly on time, on her nest. I love it.
I bet that's the dad on the nest, you know.
The poor mummy's been sitting on the nest all this time and now
she's hatched them all out the dad is still sitting there doing...all!
You all have to pull against everyone else.
For the first time since I arrived at the museum,
I get a real sense of the boating community coming together.
Over the two days, the place is packed out with visitors.
It's a money-spinning success.
But these images of optimism and celebration
are masking a darker reality that I am only just getting to know about.
For many years, there's been bad feeling between the workers
here and the museum's owners.
The first time I learn about this is when filming in the museum shop.
The receptionist, Marge, has been
here for 25 years, but she's just been made redundant by Stuart.
She is one of 20 to go - that's over half the workforce.
It's been a sad time, hasn't it, this past few months,
as we've done that. And I say "we",
you know, it's me that's done that.
And people like Marge are a real loss to us.
Yes, but the thing is, Stuart,
you seem to be blaming yourself, but it's not you.
It's... for quite a few years -
and when I say senior, senior management -
you know, they seem to have lost the plot where...
It is, though, Stuart.
I think you've got to toughen up.
You know, and stand your ground.
-If you believe in something, you stand your ground.
And don't let certain people
-walk over you.
-I'm dying to know who you mean.
-Well, I think you've got a good idea. But still.
Marge is not the only person unhappy with the museum's senior management.
The volunteer, Mike Turpin, is also disenchanted.
Do you feel that the museum has been neglected?
It's clearly been neglected.
For quite a long time.
-Do you feel confident that it can be saved?
One way or the other.
We'll either save it bit by bit, or there'll be a big explosion
and we'll save it in some way.
-What you mean by "a big explosion"?
You mean like some sort of mutiny or something?
-You can put words in my mouth if you like.
-Well, I'm only trying to...
Why do you say "no comment"?
Because a lot of these things don't take place in public,
the sort of thing these things are.
Volunteers like Mike are all part of a group
called the Boat Museum Society.
And the branch manager of that at Ellesmere is Steve Stamp.
He doesn't mince his words when talking about the senior management.
The Waterways Trust, in my view,
have failed over many years to manage this place correctly.
Do you see eye to eye with the board of trustees?
No. I don't, truthfully. There wasn't the money and wasn't the staff,
but it wasn't being spent properly, it wasn't being managed properly.
There wasn't a plan, there wasn't a strategy.
I see it as being a dead hand over the site, if you like.
These accusations of neglect are aimed at the Waterways Trust.
But when the Trust took over 11 years ago, the boats were already
rotting and visitor numbers were at rock bottom. Since then,
a campaign has been spearheaded by the Chief Executive, Roger Hanbury.
We need to make it absolutely clear that we need help to get there
and we haven't got the resources to buy in to do it.
And what resources we can buy in have got to be focused here.
Since coming on board,
Stuart has got the backing for all his changes from these trustees.
But he's identified another key ingredient which will help
to save the museum - the appointment of a general manager.
I'll certainly be much more comfortable when I know there's
somebody here who really feels
they've got day-to-day responsibility for managing the volunteers, managing
the members of staff, who are knowledgeable but need leadership.
And also deal with the safe operation of the site.
I agree with you absolutely, Roger, 100 per cent.
You have to have a general manager for all those reasons.
Stuart wants the general manager to work alongside him
in the battle to save the museum
and he thinks it's crucial to the museum's success.
The position is advertised a few days later and it catches
the eye of one of the staff.
Are you OK to hear me at the back, by the way? My name is Melissa.
I always forget to tell people. And we're on board the Centaur,
so I'm supposed to welcome you.
There are loads of bridges here. This is one of the first ones we go under.
Mel thinks she has the necessary attributes for the job.
"Our mission is to enrich people's lives through waterways.
"We work in partnership with organisations to realise benefits."
"Leading the site management team,
"you'll oversee services and operations.
"A challenge that involves managing resources, budgets and staff."
Which is all very well, but then if you've got the staff, but you haven't
got the budgets to play round with.
And managing resources, if it's all swallowed up from above,
then you can't do anything any better, can you? I don't think.
See, this is why I never got very high in management, cos I just can't
keep my mouth shut! It's true!
At the earliest opportunity,
she grabs Stuart and tells him she'll be applying for the job.
-Can I have a word?
-Of course you can, yeah.
I am dead interested in the general manager's position.
I really, really want it.
I'm on my day off today, which is why I'm so scruffy.
-What are you doing, then?
-I'm doing some volunteer gardening.
-Cos I love gardening. But the thing is,
I just think I have enough motivation and enthusiasm to be
a good manager. I think I have excellent...
Mel thinks she will make a committed leader,
with the museum's best interests at heart. And a week later,
she's invited to Stuart's office for a meeting.
I think he's going to tell me I've absolutely
no chance and they're not going to give me an interview.
-That's what I think.
-Have a seat.
Thank you very much for putting in an application
for the general manager.
But we've not shortlisted you for it.
We had 39 applications.
We'll be interviewing six of them on Tuesday.
I think there are lots of people that have just come and gone.
And what I think they really need in a management position is longevity.
All right. I'm sorry that...
-No, you're not!
-..it's not better news for you.
No, you're not, cos you could have given me an interview.
Then you wouldn't have had to be sorry.
The interviews for the general manager position
will be held in a few weeks.
Stuart needs someone who can keep the museum running smoothly while
he wrestles with the bigger issue of getting more people to visit it.
People like this couple,
who have been on the water for the last 12 months.
It's just like a mobile home, floating around on the water!
Today, the only people who use the canals are pleasure cruisers.
But in the mid-18th and 19th centuries,
over 2,000 miles of canals
and the network of ports were built to aid the industrial revolution.
One of the things the Waterways Trust did when it took over
was link Ellesmere Port up with two other museums
in Northamptonshire and Gloucester.
The Gloucester one may have to close later this year.
Stuart has come to Gloucester for a make-or-break meeting with the museum's volunteers.
But first, he introduces me to the deputy manager, Doreen.
There was a manager there, there was a curatorial there,
there was two educational posts there.
And we still do have, right at the bottom there,
a very part-time site services person who changes the light bulbs for us.
-And empties bins, at the moment!
-But everyone else has gone?
We have lost virtually everybody on this side of the office.
It's amazing that the organisation can still function.
With a lot of enthusiasm and determination, I think, yes.
Gloucester is losing more money than Ellesmere
and Stuart had to cut jobs here, too, just to keep the place afloat.
It's very hard to come up from as low as we've got.
The position that we're in,
with the staffing levels that we've got.
You know, it's a hard climb back up.
Gloucester looks quite a modern museum
and it should be a great family attraction.
But it's still failing and while I'm filming,
I see more boat enthusiasts than visitors.
That's a lovely noise - a real engine running.
It makes me think about what Stuart told me
when I first started filming. The museums are out of touch.
The enthusiasts are very proud of their museum.
If you want to come down the other end, I'm going to fire the boiler.
Their most prized exhibit is an old steam dredger, used in maintaining
the canal systems.
I'm going to light the boiler now.
-You're going to what?
-Going to light the boiler.
It takes 20 minutes to start up. This boat sunk in the '70s,
but was completely restored by a group of volunteers.
Despite the great work of volunteers have done here,
their enthusiasm alone does not make the museum viable.
Stuart has called them all together
for a frank chat about Gloucester's future.
The museum, you don't need me to tell you this, you know it.
The museum has been spiralling down for a period of time.
In the year that's just finished, the museum cost
roughly £100,000 more to run than it was budgeted to do.
Something has to give in this.
You can't spend more money than you've got.
There is no reason to close museums.
What we've got to do, in this country,
we've got to re-educate people. They're walking away.
This isn't just a little thing in Gloucester,
this is part of a huge network.
This was a vital part of the economic growth of the country.
I understand the cutbacks and the financial constrictions there.
But is there still aspirations to have a National Waterways Museum?
-Well, you cut Gloucester, you get rid of £100,000 loss
a year, or whatever, is that the message that's coming through?
Because if it is, we're purely local.
But if there's a national aspiration, I'd like to know about it,
because we need to build that in somewhere with what we're doing.
Right. The concept of a National Waterways Museum
I think is really valid. It doesn't follow that you need three.
And I think we've got muddled in trying to keep
three National Waterways Museums.
And I think that what we need to move towards is that Ellesmere Port
is the National Waterways Museum.
Has anybody ever calculated the man-hours that have gone into
keeping this museum open?
Are we're going to throw all that away?
We are where we are. And nobody wants to see the museum closed.
Nobody wants to see that.
One very simple question.
Where's the money come from?
I don't know. I don't.
There... There's a real challenge around the money.
I know we've got lower costs,
because we've lost so many people in the last year.
And that's getting us nearer to being able to balance the books.
I don't have the answer for where the money's going to come from.
Stuart is suggesting Gloucester opts out
of the National Waterways Museum.
If it does, it will lose some key funding and its future
will be even more dependent on the goodwill of these volunteers.
He knows that by sacrificing Gloucester, Ellesmere Port
has a greater chance of survival.
He's a pragmatist in a world of sentimentality.
-It's a bit like a graveyard for boats here.
-Yeah, it is a graveyard.
It is. And there is that strand of museums that is like that.
And sometimes you kind of go with that flow and maybe you do
acknowledge that you do have an area that is a graveyard,
and you allow some things to rot back into nature.
And there's something that's quite right in doing that.
You know, accepting our own mortality.
That's partly what's going on in museums.
So in other words, it's not always right to restore something?
It's not always right to restore something. It might be right to say,
sorry, but this one's too far gone,
it's got to go, there's nobody else to take it on,
we're going to burn it, we're going to bury it, we're going to sink it.
Something like that.
So accepting that things live and things die
is something we've all got to get our head round.
It is Ellesmere Port that Stuart is keen to keep alive.
That's why he's been pushing for a heritage boatyard
and the appointment of a general manager. On the interview day,
the shortlist of candidates are given a tour of the site.
They're shown the areas of decay and concern.
But it is the activity, the personal touch and that's what,
as volunteers, we can very much help to try and bring.
The successful candidate needs to show they can be customer-focused
and know how to improve the visitor experience.
Stuart has found the money for this new position
by making some people redundant and taking on more volunteers.
One of those, the new recruit Paul
is still helping out in the power hall.
Watch your feet here because this is very slippery.
I don't want an accident.
You'll step onto some slimy stuff. Be careful. Follow me.
We're going into the shed where we store all the things which we will,
in future years, have the time, the money and the expertise...
This, please come and look...
I sense a bit of an atmosphere with the other volunteer, Phil.
The engineer's rule of thumb, and we've got gloves on,
look at the dipstick.
It doesn't smell bad.
If it starts being smelly, it means it's been neglected.
Paul is particularly fond
of the volunteer in charge of the power hall, Dave Crosby.
Dave is a modest man who has been noted by the Queen
for his services, or should be.
He's been here 18 years and he's done 18 engines
and what he hasn't done, I don't know.
He is wonderful, isn't he?
Well, I think so!
Dave Crosby. Come and see him.
-Come and see him.
He's known as Bing, Bing Crosby.
Paul's admiration for Dave Crosby is not reciprocated.
In fact, Dave has decided he doesn't want Paul in the power hall any more
and complains to the boatyard foreman, John Moore.
I just think he's a very dangerous man.
Cos he can do everything, somebody might check him at his word
and go and start that, for instance.
But he's an expert on the Gardner, isn't he?
-No! Is he buggery.
-Is he not?
-You've got to know what you're doing.
The engine Dave's working on at the moment, it's an air-cooled engine
similar to this one, but it's got a big fan on the end.
Now, I know it's just a cooling fan and Dave knows it's a cooling fan
but Paul said it was the turbo, didn't he?
The bad feeling around Paul intensifies over the next few days,
and in the end, the museum's director has to intervene.
Stuart recruited Paul,
but now there's pressure on him to let him go.
-Come in, Paul.
-Hi. Hello, Richard.
The reason I wanted to meet you
was so that I could get your perspective on where we were.
I think I had an unfortunate experience
in joining Dave Crosby in the power hall...
-...and being a Yorkshireman, I do tend to say
things sometimes which in retrospect I perhaps would have retracted.
But he obviously felt that I didn't fit in.
Maybe it's a case of a bit of keeping your head down here for a little bit,
getting on and doing a particular job,
doing it as well as you possibly can.
There'll be the best chance here that if you can contribute
and your contribution can stand up,
then in that way you're proving yourself, not to me,
but proving yourself to other people about,
and let's just see what happens when we get to there.
-The ceiling's all right.
I don't think that needs doing, does it?
Actually, don't bother with dust sheets.
If we get something on this carpet,
it's not a problem because it's got no...
The thing in this room that's got no future is the carpet.
-No future at this museum.
This episode with Paul shows me another side to the new director.
Stuart believes the museum is as much about the people within it
as the objects it has on display.
Which is...sort of a creamy off-white.
Strangely enough, I don't really like decorating,
but I think this is nice because when the room's done,
I'll be able to say, well, whatever the boat museum has got,
it's got a decent room decorated
and a few other things done.
Ah, the weather's taken a turn for the worse again.
I'm glad I'm not outside.
-Is it raining?
In some ways it would have been easier
for Stuart and Paul to just part company.
But he tells me he learnt as a young man
the importance of perseverance when he dropped out of college
and took a job selling burgers.
Just to feel part of a team, people can look down at McDonald's
and things, but you're part of a team when you start off there.
There's not many opportunities for 16, 17, 18-year-olds
to feel part of a team.
It's something that we need and...I got it at McDonald's,
I got something really positive out of it.
I then stayed much too long with McDonald's.
I got promoted a few times.
But I stayed much too long,
partly because I needed to prove to myself that I was a sticker.
So you kind of stayed for the wrong reasons?
I don't know if they were the wrong reasons.
I can look back on it now and see that,
but maybe I needed to prove I was a sticker at something
because I had to learn to be a sticker at something.
# I wish that I could fall in love today
# But memories of you stand in my way... #
After a year in the job, Stuart has shaken the place up.
He suggested dropping Gloucester and made a lot of redundancies,
but visitor numbers are on now the increase. It's only
the heritage boatyard that's still waiting to get off the ground.
In this plan is a breakthrough because this is a much wider
regeneration and it now includes these areas.
Because Stuart has made these difficult decisions,
he's won the respect of the staff and volunteers.
They wholeheartedly see him as the saviour of the museum.
-Sorry, but I...
-That's not what you said a minute ago.
-You was getting real twitchy...
Spirit are high one morning when he calls John Moore,
the boatyard foreman, and his two other duty managers together
for an important announcement.
Listen. I need to tell you...
I'll be giving in my notice.
I won't be, I'll be leaving at about the end August.
-I think, yes. And...
I've told the museum management board today
and I wanted to let, I wanted to let you...
..know that too. Roger will send out an e-mail on that one.
Go on, then. Tell us why.
What it was for me was we were getting to...
a few months ago and setting the budget for the year...
And I've set out that we need these posts,
general manager, learning manager, marketing manager, collections.
And we've found a way to go forward with the general manager.
But we've not got a way to go forward with the others.
The salary I'm on can buy more than one post.
But you're the glue that ties all that lot together.
It'll just fall on its arse.
Once again a good person has fallen foul
of the bloody useless shower of bastards running TWT.
You're the best thing that's happened in here
for a bloody long time, Stuart. You really are.
We actually had hope that there was somebody here
who knew what they were talking about and was keen.
I was spouting off to people yesterday
just how bleeding good you were.
Once again it's that shower of bastards at the top
that have screwed it up.
Because you can't work miracles with sod all
and you're being given sod all once again.
-It's bloody hopeless.
-You're going to take some time to...
It will end up on its arse because you're just not going to get...
Don't take it wrong,
but people like you don't come along that often here. They really don't.
I'm surprised at just how angry John and Jim feel
about Stuart's announcement,
but they have been thrown by what he has told them.
In truth, I think the management has been trying to help the museums.
Roger Hanbury campaigned to get government funding
for the Waterways.
This would mean he could give free entry to visitors.
But in the end, the government said no.
I can't see that we can get the resource necessary.
If I'm working in a situation where I know something's impossible, then...
..that's not, that's not positive.
And those sorts of things can affect your health,
it can affect you in all sorts of other ways too.
The things that people think I can bring to the party right now,
then I'm not able to bring to the party
because it's affecting me in other ways.
If I've lost belief in it, in those ways.
It'll sour the way that I am too.
All right, I'm going back in now.
I get the feeling Stuart is disillusioned.
He thinks the museum cannot afford to keep him on
and improve at the same time.
The news of Stuart's resignation
spreads quickly around Ellesmere Port.
People feel devastated by it.
Many think that all his good work will now be undone.
You don't think it's going to serve the museum well?
It's a complication I think we could all have done without.
You can say trite things like every cloud has a silver lining
and things like that, but...
it's a complication we could do without. I'll leave it at that.
It's not just staff and volunteers
who fear for the museum now Stuart is leaving.
At the next board meeting,
some trustees think his departure could spell disaster for the museum.
Could I ask Stuart to leave the room for a minute
because I would like to say something which could affect him?
-Just for a minute.
We'll give you a shout, then, in a minute.
I would like to propose that we seek to retain Stuart
as an adviser or consultant for a period
after he leaves us, just to help us over this particular...period.
Seeing Stuart go now will send out all the wrong messages,
so I think that what John's opposing has a lot of merit.
In my view, I think Stuart has shown incredible leadership
for the museums which we haven't had for a long time.
From the museum's point of view with his knowledge and background,
his depth of knowledge and ability,
I think we should review it later in the period to see if...
I think this is a totally flawed idea.
I think we treat him as a friend,
but to engage him as a consultant would be fundamentally flawed.
Not necessarily as a consultant,
but find some way of carrying on that vision on.
-Be we are doing that.
-I think we'll do that, Chris.
I think it would put the fear of God into Stuart
if the word "saviour" has been used about him,
which is extremely uncomfortable, actually.
I think we've got enough wit about us to manage the next steps effectively.
Can someone find Stuart and ask him to return?
Then we'll get on with the chief executive board.
-Thanks for raising it, John.
Right at the top of this organisation,
Stuart's decision to leave is causing debate,
and I'm fascinated to see how the museum fares now that he's going.
Already the signs are bad.
It's not good to have change all the time.
There's uncertainty come back where we thought
we were in a stable situation, and that's the difficulty.
Everyone's hacked off because they've had so many managers
in the last few years.
They're here for like a year, and then they leave.
Then you've got another person who's got to start all over again
and then they get fed up and they go elsewhere.
It seems to be a catalogue of disasters.
It'll have to end one way or another.
At the moment,
I should think it's going to end with the museum closing.
It's against this backdrop of anxiety
that the new general manager takes up his post.
John Inch does not have a background in boats or museums,
he's a cinema manager.
-Is it flushing all right?
-Is it flushing all right?
The standard check is you test the flushes,
you test the lot works and you make sure there's paper there.
That's the drill.
We have more trouble with the ladies than we do with the gents.
John Inch is not replacing Stuart.
Stuart is an ambassador for the museum
on a constant charm offensive, chatting up potential fundraisers.
John Inch's job will be much more to sort out the day-to-day problems and
he knows it's going to be difficult with the museum's lack of money.
There's a lot can be done
and I think the difficulty is it's the resources we have.
There's less than a dozen people actually working here.
We have sort of 80, 90 volunteers.
But some of those volunteers may only be here
one day a month, one day a fortnight.
So therefore, I think we've got a huge amount to do,
but we struggle from not necessarily having the resources
to put it all in place as quickly as we would like.
One volunteer in particular is proving a sensitive issue.
John Inch will need to deal with Paul, once Stuart has
finished his few weeks' notice.
OK. Wood primer...
-The task is, the back room.
-The back gate.
He is still painting for Stuart, away from the other volunteers.
Let's move on.
And wire brush.
Whatever you're sanding,
sand with the grain.
If you go across, it just roughs it all up and it looks awful.
At the heart of Stuart's vision for the museum lies the community.
Paul is an example of this policy in action.
I like the way he gave me two brushes, which, of course,
is the way to do it.
Really make the most of it.
It isn't a Rolls-Royce job.
Man-management isn't everyone's cup of tea.
The problems with any voluntary organisation
or any organisation of any size is the interpersonal relationships.
That's what is really bugging any organisation.
HORN BEEPS Bye.
Typical. No seat belt and a fag in her hand.
This would be the last time I see Paul.
He left the museum a few weeks after Stuart.
It's two weeks since Stuart announced his resignation.
The mood around the place is still very sombre
and tensions are now beginning to appear.
A small fire breaks out on the 85-year-old cargo boat, Ferret.
Evidently, it began when two volunteers
tried to start up the engine during a weekend event.
John Moore, the boatyard foreman, had to write a report on it.
There was no actual fire damage.
It was just the fact there was a fire and you know,
there's nothing to see, really. You can have a look.
It says, "Do not start, there's a leak on the injector."
So, it was the fuel on the cylinder head that went on fire.
There was no damage done. None at all.
It was only a minor incident,
but a meeting is called between the staff and volunteers.
John Moore can't make it, but Stuart is chairing
and his duty manager Jim was in charge on the day.
My understanding is that they have run the engine before.
The leader of the Boat Museum Society, Steve Stamp,
is angry John Moore's report points a finger at a volunteer.
Have you talked to any of the volunteers who were involved?
Have they contributed to the report?
I've only just seen this report, right now.
That seems fundamental to me, to go back to the guys who were involved.
Have we not done that?
John's investigated it, I haven't.
There's a bit of slopey shoulders here.
Have we been to the people who had the accident?
I don't know. I've not read it.
That was the strategy.
What time did this take place?
I've no idea, absolutely no idea.
We'll get there in the investigation.
John Inch must be wondering what he's let himself in for.
I think the danger of this, I would consign this piece of paper
to the wastepaper bin of history.
This is a witch hunt.
A witch hunt seems a very serious accusation.
A few days later, Steve Stamp challenges John Moore about it.
It doesn't tell me what happened.
It tells me what you think happened.
-It tells what you think happened.
What it says, right,
is what I was told happened by the people who were there.
I'd like to see the horse's mouth.
All you've got to do is go and ask them.
That's what we should do.
But I did it. I went and asked.
What you're making is it's like a witch hunt,
is the expression I heard had been used.
No, It isn't.
Did it bother you that he heard it was described as a witch hunt?
No, not really.
Was it described as a witch hunt?
Well, apparently, that was a word
that was used to describe it at the meeting.
The other thing about this is, as you move to change things,
you've got to have a mutual respect operating.
I've got to be able to believe that I can say witch hunt
and it's not misconstrued by people as a witch hunt.
I'm not entirely sure what Steve means.
Do you feel people like the head volunteers, like Mike and Steve,
do you think they appreciate what you do?
No, to be perfectly honest...
I shouldn't really say,
but I think they'd probably be happy if I wasn't here.
-Oh, Christ, aye.
-I get in the way.
-Do you? In their eyes?
Yeah, I think so, yeah.
Because I won't bow down and do what they want to do,
you know what I mean? I've actually got a brain.
I've got an opinion.
It doesn't go down very well.
At the start of filming, I learnt about bad feeling that has existed
for many years between the workers and the senior management.
This bad feeling is returning
now that Stuart's departure is imminent.
So Stuart orders an emergency meeting
with all the staff and volunteers.
On this occasion, rather than saying he's leaving
because the museum can't afford to keep him on,
he's got another reason for going.
My news is that...
I've been offered a new job in Derby, as head of museums.
I'll be taking up that job.
Stuart tries to rally everyone in the room.
There's a lot of misunderstanding about why I'm going.
Nobody's pushing me to go. This is a choice I've made.
People were saying, "We wanted you to stay longer."
I'd have loved to stay longer, I really would have,
but we can't afford to do everything.
There are things we need that are a priority right now.
Nobody's giving up and if there's any talk from us here
of anyone beyond which is, well, "We're back where we started from,"
and, "They're going to close us at the end of the year."
If there's any of that talk, it's absolute rubbish.
Don't let any defeatist talk come in on this place,
because this place is set up and you need to take it on
and there needs to be other posts coming in, that will now come in,
that will take it on further there, too.
I totally understand any thoughts you might have right now.
I'm not walking away from this place. This place has got to flourish.
Over the next few weeks, the mood fails to improve.
Just the boat, they've created quite a lot of damage, actually.
They've broken the lights and they've trashed the toilet area.
As a bad omen, one evening, the tour boat Centaur
is broken into and vandalised. New manager John Inch
identifies some youths on the closed-circuit television.
I would say late teens, yeah.
There's a lot of them around.
-They're going back that way.
The boatyard foreman John Moore, is driven to distraction
by the damage to his boats
and he vents his frustration on some teenagers.
Amid the problems caused by the fire and the break-in, I
noticed the workers are beginning to revise their opinions about Stuart.
I keep thinking we were quite happy with him because
we thought he was a stayer and now, of course, he's leaving. So...
Now he's leaving, you think everything has changed?
Possibly. Because he's not really doing
what he said he was going to do when he first arrived, I presume.
The atmosphere in the museum is beginning to affect Stuart too,
who now only has days left to work.
At this point, there's probably a tendency
for certain people to see the worst things about me
and for me not to see the best things about them.
I'm not convinced of...
how much I'm adding by being here at this moment.
And it's not just, am I adding, but actually,
am I a potentially negative factor?
It grieves me to think that might be the case.
In his last week, a leaving party is held for Stuart.
Despite the celebrations, I notice not everyone is there.
He's giving people the impression, like,
that he's fallen on his sword for the good of the cause.
One or two of us don't see it that way any more.
He's saying that the writing's on the wall
or he's never going to get what he needs,
so he's just looking after number one.
He's just moving on, looking after himself.
Stuart was regarded as the saviour of the museum,
but that no longer seems the case.
Hello, you're through to the former phone of Stuart Gillis.
Please redial the museum
on 0151 355 5017. Thank you.
As he leaves his office for the last time,
I feel a bit sorry for Stuart.
After all the good work he's done for the museum,
he should be leaving on a high, but it doesn't feel that way.
I'm half expecting things to go from bad to worse at the museum
once Stuart has left, but that's not what happens.
People move on.
Visitor numbers remain on the up.
At the end of summer, a festival aimed at attracting
young people to the museum is a huge success.
Then three months after Stuart left the National Waterways Museum,
I'm invited back to Ellesmere Port to film a momentous occasion.
His dream of creating a heritage boatyard
for the museum's sunken boats is at last coming alive.
It's a bloody good day, actually.
It's a marvellous day.
I sound like Churchill now, the beginning of the end.
We're through the worst.
The first of many ailing vessels
is being lifted out of the water to be restored.
It is the beginning of something new for the museum.
-It's about creating new jobs.
We're looking to recruit a new supervisor.
We're looking to have some boatyard assistants starting in the New Year.
It's about our plans as far as being part of the community
and assisting with education.
Everyone at Ellesmere Port seems convinced
the museum now has a bright future.
The future of its sister museum in Gloucester
has still not been decided upon.
Everybody, I want one person on the rope either end - only one -
that's all you need.
Just move yourself way back from the boat.
-It's rather symbolic.
-It is very symbolic.
-You must be very pleased.
-It's pretty good.
We haven't seen this for a little while
and we'll see more of it in the future.
I'm pleased. I'm pleased the boats are coming out
and we're going to do some work.
We'll get there.
At last, the irresistible force of decay is being stemmed.
# I was born by the river
# In a little tent
# Oh, and just like the river
# I've been running ever since
# It's been a long A long time coming
# But I know a change is gonna come
# Oh, yes it will... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Series in which acclaimed filmmaker Richard Macer visits three different museums struggling to connect with a modern audience.
The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port marks the birthplace of the industrial revolution when canals were built to transport goods to emerging cities like Liverpool and Manchester. A financial crisis has left the museum with a reputation for sunken boats, and unless the situation improves dramatically some of the country's oldest barges and narrowboats might have to be sold off or even destroyed.
The museum's many volunteers are angry and believe its dire predicament is the result of mismanagement, so a new director is being brought on board with the task of saving it. In just a short while Stuart Gillis makes a big impression and the staff and volunteers begin to see him as a saviour. But will Stuart be able to live up to such high expectations?