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Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future 99

Posted by timothy
from the all-things-to-all-people dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Tensions are high at Bletchley Park between the new management who want a 21st century installment and the volunteers who want to show the whole story (and get dismissed for doing so). This report [Note: video, with sound] is from the BBC: 'The groundbreaking intelligence work carried out at Bletchley Park during the second world war was credited with bringing forward the end of the conflict. In 2011 the site was awarded a £4.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). But Bletchley is currently in the throes of a bitter dispute, between owners who want to create a brand new visitors centre, and volunteers who have been working on the site for years.'"
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Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

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  • History is historic (Score:5, Informative)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:26AM (#46072485)

    Do not modernize it. What I hear is greed and desire for attention from the new owners. Nothing even remotely appropriate for the site.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:49AM (#46072623)

    I had the chance to visit the park a while ago, along with the computer science museum right next to it and I have to say that I have fond memories of it. It's really interesting and tours are hosted by really passionate people. It's not hip and modern but it goes in depth with every aspect of the life there during the war. They should totally ask for fan support, we should do something to preserve it and help the volunteers make it better without taking it away from the people who always did their best to preserve it, even without any form of recognition.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:06AM (#46072755)

    The original story was here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25886961 It has since been removed without any explanation given.

    Knowing a lot of the story behind... I consider this an assault on free-speech.

    Also, for those who are interested, might give an explanation on why the BBC chickened out: www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/about/bptrust.rhtm

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:28AM (#46072887)

    The historical site is owned by a charity, whose trustees are unpaid, and will be making nothing from the changes. The grant and associated fundraising were for a specific modernisation plan that's been available to interested parties for years: the trustees wouldn't be allowed to do anything substantially different with the money. The computer museum is run by a different charity, which rents space from the historical charity: lost donations have nothing to do with the Bletchley charity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:56AM (#46073045)

    How quickly we forget.

    As recently as 2008, Bletchley Park was on the edge of financial ruin. The thing that saved it was the new management, who increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue. Had they not done that, this most historic site would be blocks of flats now.

    The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it. If you've actually been to Bletchley Park recently, you'll know that you simply can't run it the way it was being run AND accommodate 2-3 times as many visitors. The tours had to be streamlined, and the collections rationalised. You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

    There's much more to this story than the BBC report suggests. The fact that the BBC has removed it from their web site after less than 24 hours should be your first clue that all is not as it seems.

  • by Hieronymus Howard (215725) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:16PM (#46073133)

    The steam engine at the entrance of the Science Museum does run, but not all of the time. I go to the Science Museum frequently, as I have a 5 year old who love it. I've certainly seen the engine running several times recently.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:25PM (#46073187)

    The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it.

    Not true. The majority of decision-makers at Bletchley Park now present came in after the lottery funding was secured.

    You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

    Actually, yes. The model railway was very popular with families as a day at Bletchley Park can be tough on younger children. Churchill collection was much more than tea towels.

  • by xaxa (988988) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @01:07PM (#46073521)

    Last time I visited the Science Museum there were steam engines running. That was less than a year ago, but I don't think they run every day -- perhaps only at weekends.

    The shipping gallery is available online: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.u... [sciencemuseum.org.uk] -- I don't know what is now in that location (or if it's ready yet). It's certainly not a gift shop, as that's on a different floor.

    The Babbage difference engine model is in the Computing section, on the 2nd floor: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.u... [sciencemuseum.org.uk]

    Perhaps you should have asked for a map?

    (The museum is free, funded from tax and donations. The Deparment for Culture, Media and Sport is facing big cuts from the current government, and all the tax-funded museums are being told to cut costs as much as they can, and generate as much income as they can. I don't like this, but there's not much I can do about it.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @01:25PM (#46073629)

    Absolute nonsense.

    How quickly we forget.

    As recently as 2008, Bletchley Park was on the edge of financial ruin. The thing that saved it was the new management, who increased visitor numbers and therefore revenue. Had they not done that, this most historic site would be blocks of flats now.

    The "new" management, in the shape of new CEO Iain Standen, arrived in 2012. Since then the relationship between BPT and other stakeholders and volunteers on the park has been going downhill rapidly. His predecessor, Simon Greenish, whilst not perfect, at least seemed to understand the importance of volunteers and the many varied and interesting private collections on the park.

    The people running Bletchley Park today are, for the most part, the exact same people who saved it. If you've actually been to Bletchley Park recently, you'll know that you simply can't run it the way it was being run AND accommodate 2-3 times as many visitors.

    Except there aren't 2-3 times as many visitors, and it's hard to see why there ever will be when the things visitors came to see are being shut down one by one. The real people who saved the park back in the 90s are exactly those volunteers and private collections that are now being systemically removed.

    The tours had to be streamlined, and the collections rationalised. You really think most people go to Bletchley Park to see a model railway and a collection of Winston Churchill tea towels?

    The main tour was shortened from 90 mins to 60 mins because it was felt to be too much for elderly visitors. That was a decision that volunteers were involved in, on the understanding that there would be further tour options to take in e.g. Colossus at TNMOC. However, that has not happened and visitors are now left to find their own way to TNMOC, which is no longer allowed to sell tickets in Block B and is not promoted by BPT at all. The BPT tour guide who was "sacked" whilst the BBC were there filming (and that was NOT planned btw) was dismissed because he had the temerity to take some visitors over to TNMOC to see Colossus. That is how ridiculous the situation has become.

    And yes, absolutely, the varied collections provided something for the whole family. The park HAS to remain a family attraction to survive long term. A narrow focus on WW2 codebreaking could be a little dry for most, especially children, and I somehow doubt there are enough hardcore "geek" visitors to keep the doors open.

  • Newsify (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @02:12PM (#46074041)

    I love the way the beeb report (and so many of my esteemed fellow slashdotters) want to simplify the sitution down to idiot level, and draw highly emotional conclusions from it. Soundbite Society.

    The situation at Bletchley is horrifically complex, as several other posters have alluded to. The site itself is owned by one party, operated by another, who sub-let part of it to another (the museum of computing). There are also contracts with companies Science and Innovation, who are responsible for letting unused areas to companies as office space or production rooms: this is an important source of revenue for the park itself, and requires some of the site to be modernised to allow better access, power supply, security etc etc. This has generally been done in a sensitive way, keeping a lot of the modernisation hidden from the general public.

    Every decision at bletchley involves a number of differing or opposing parties with equal or close weighting. PositIve decision making is almost impossible, and getting stuff done has involved winning favours, political negotiation and luck. All the while the place falls down around everyones ears. The new management seem to be in a position to be a 'new broom' sweeping aside a lot of the nonsense: there are parties at BP that would watch it fall into ruin as they stubbornly insist on changing nothing. Equally the lottery plan is aggressive, and does indeed take away some of the fantastic bits of bletchley: the tour guides are an exceptional feature, and replacing them with the electronic tours is a real loss. However, the place needs money to stay open, to be self sustaining. The best way to achieve that is to become more 'family friendly'. It's a great experience for grown ups, but a horrific ordeal for anyone under the age of 16: some of it is just too stuffy. I wish they had been able to find some way of keeping the Model railway, and the Churchill Exhibit - I think they could both have been accomodated in outlying buildings. The Churchill Exhibit drew a surprising number of people (despite being a little dry) and really isn't so far removed from the core WWII message. Justifying the railway is somewhat harder. Creating more accessible exhibits is key to a younger audience, though, as is modernising some of the buildings. Generally the refurb seems inline with previous works, which were done intelligently and sensitively. The visitors centre is the 'all new store front' that the place deserately needs: having to be shown where the front door is by a man in a high vis is just ridiculous.

    As always, it's a case of getting the balance right: the old-guard resist change and the new broom wants to change too much. Hopefully the result of the battle falls somewhere in the midground - I don't think too much needs to be trimmed away to bring things up to date. Let's hope the new vision/message isn't overly simplified.

  • by westlake (615356) on Monday January 27, 2014 @12:44AM (#46077859)

    You have to have the place be self sustaining and provide something for everyone.

    The very brief BBC broadcast on the 6 Oâ(TM)Clock News on the 24th January created an impression of disharmony within Bletchley Park.

    The piece drew attention to three very different and separate issues;

    The alleged treatment of volunteer guides
    Private Collections being asked to leave the site
    The access arrangements to The National Museum of Computing

    In order to manage increasing numbers of visitors, and to make it more accessible and family friendly, the guided tour was reduced from 90 minutes plus to an hour. This revised tour was developed and implemented by a working group of staff and volunteers, and the great majority of our volunteers have embraced and supported the revised tours for nearly a year. Sadly, there was one exception where a tour guide who was unwilling to conduct tours in the agreed format has been asked to stand down from this role.

    Some of the non-core private collections which have in recent years operated from the Bletchley Park site have been asked to relocate, as the parts of the site they occupy are to be restored to their wartime appearance and made available to help tell the remarkable story of WW2 Codebreaking. These buildings of high historic value, are artefacts in their own right and deserve to be interpreted accordingly, to reflect their importance and the profound impact of the work that took place inside them.

    The National Museum of Computing was formed in 2006 and is run by a separate charitable trust. It willingly entered into a lease agreement with the Bletchley Park Trust to rent Block H on the Bletchley Park site to house its museum. This museum remains on-site and accessible, by way of a separate admission charge, to anyone visiting Bletchley Park. It is the Bletchley Park Trust's policy to have a solid working relationship with The National Museum of Computing and we intend that its exhibition should be enjoyed by visitors to Bletchley Park>p>Bletchley Park. The site is in the middle of a major, and much needed, £8 million Heritage Lottery Funded restoration project to bring the many historic buildings on the site back to a state of good repair and create an inspiring experience for its ever-increasing numbers of visitors. This will create a world class museum and heritage site which is a fitting memorial to the heroic codebreakers of Bletchley Park making the site much more sustainable and accessible to growing numbers of visitors.

    Progress in Perspective [bletchleypark.org.uk]

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