The future of free entry at London’s museums

There is something unique found when someone considers visiting the museums of London—one of them being there is free entry.

There is something unique found when someone considers visiting the museums of London—one of them being there is free entry. In late 2001, museums across the UK adopted free entry in an attempt to expand cultural heritage in Britain and access to it by its citizens and tourists. As a result, visitor rates have been on the rise at the many museums of the UK, including those in London, where visiting rates are high.

So when the announcement came from Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, that some of their budget would be cut by five per cent in the Spending Review in June (though more freedom to utilise budgetary measures were introduced), there was an urge for museums to keep the free entry intact and not to bring back admission fees.

FInishing fossils for free?

Mayor Boris Johnson said museum directors should exercise great caution, but said according to a report from the London Evening Standard these free admissions brought many visitors and economic benefits to the capital.

“Free museums are one of the glories of London,” Johnson said. “It helps to bring people to the capital, it creates a massive buzz about the place. Yes, you can have individual shows where you can charge, you could have voluntary contributions but the basic principle, the principle on which the British Museum was founded, should be free entry.”

At the moment, despite the budgetary concerns, there are no plans for admission fees to be brought back in museums. Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, speaking on the tenth anniversary of the introduction of free admission for museums across the UK, said it had wide benefits for the museum and visitor numbers have almost tripled. Free admission has been very successful for the V&A,” Roth said. “It is important because the V&A was set up to inspire creativity, knowledge and innovation and we want people to be able to visit the amazing collections here many times, not just once in a lifetime. Free admission allows that.”

Is free museum entry about to become an exhibit?

A spokesperson for the British Museum said the museum always promoted free entry since its establishment in 1753, and its trustees remained committed to the idea of free entry. A spokesperson for the Natural History Museum declined to comment for this piece, referring to a spokesperson for the National Museums Directors’ Council, who did not respond to a request seeking comment on this piece.

Museums are popular attractions not just in London but across the UK. If visitor admission fees were brought back, it may have wider impacts, not just for the museums themselves, but for the cities which house them, from effects on tourism to effects on the wider budgets of the cities that are renowned for these attractions.

For now though, that appears to be unlikely, as visitors continue to flock to these museums to not only understand the history of the UK, but also perhaps people themselves, and provide a glimpse on what can happen in the days, months, years and decades to come.

What do you think? Has visiting a museum always been a part of you visiting a city? What are your experiences? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.