Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Family hope to save museum's treasures

From The Staffordshire Sentinel: Tuesday 27th July 2010

MEMBERS of the Wedgwood family have launched a campaign to protect the Wedgwood Museum's collection from being broken up and sold off. Support for the attraction has come from the UK and across the world.

The museum is under threat after being saddled with a £134 million pension fund deficit claim from the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan. It was thought the company scheme would be taken over by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) following the collapse of Wedgwood and sister firm Royal Doulton last year. But the PPF could not legally accept the scheme as there was still a surviving solvent organisation with fund members connected to it – the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston.

Lawyers for the museum argue its treasures cannot be sold off because they are protected by "permanent endowment" status, but it will be months before a judge makes the final decision. Tom Wedgwood …a direct descendant of company founder Josiah, said: "The upcoming court case is a potential tragedy for all of us in North Staffordshire. We have had enough bad news, with closures and job losses in the pottery industry. "I don't understand how such a ludicrous case has arisen and I urge common sense to prevail. Why would anyone donate money or family possessions to trusts if the Government can introduce new legislation that means they are sold off? Now we are in a ludicrous position when we might have to try to raise funds to buy back and re-donate all the pieces which were originally donated by Wedgwood ancestors and cousins and previous generations of factory managers."

The family has launched a website and Facebook profile SaveWedgwoodMuseum to spearhead the campaign.

Dr Alan Wedgwood, head of the Wedgwood family, said: "When members of the Wedgwood family donated parts of their personal collections to the museum trust over the course of the last two centuries, this was done as an act of social philanthropy, in the belief the collection would be preserved for all future generations. New government legislation should not be introduced which can cause the subsequent break up and sale of this historic collection."

The campaign team says auction house Christie's has valued the collection at £20 million, meaning the PPF would still have to find the bulk of the £134 million shortfall. And supporters believe it is unfair to hold the museum to account because five out of 7,000 Wedgwood Group pension fund members work for it.

Tom Wedgwood said: "I want to stress to all Wedgwood pensioners that even if the collection was sold, it would not mean extra money for them.

"It would just mean the PPF has to pay less into the compensation scheme when it eventually steps in."

A "permanent endowment" covers any asset which trustees cannot spend because of a restriction in the charity's governing documents.