Museum faces closure over health and safety demands

September 21, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A tiny British museum is facing closure after being hit with a ten-page dossier of health and safety demands – which will cost £30,000 to implement.

The Bakelite Museum is the world’s only archive of the 1950s plastic and is spread across three floors of an historic 18th century watermill in Somerset.

It has an honesty box instead of an entrance fee and rarely has more than eight visitors at once.

But an off-duty firefighter who visited the attraction raised concerns that the historic building may not meet modern-day health and safety standards.

Owner Patrick Cook has now been handed a ten-page dossier of health and safety changes.

They include building two new staircases to act as fire escapes and employing staff to patrol every floor.

Mr Cook, 60, claims the huge cost of the alterations has put the future of the museum in jeopardy.

He said: ”I run this museum as a labour of love. It’s completely unique and there’s no building like it in the world.

”Now it is under threat because I cannot afford to make these health and safety changes.

”This place is being treated the same as if it’s a disco or a pub, but the people who come here are specialist visitors and they come in low numbers.

”The idea of removing 100 per cent of risk from things is unrealistic and based on theoretical problems arising.

”They want me to go around plugging in all the electrical equipment to test it out – but it’s all just for show.”

Mr Cook first opened up his Bakelite collection in London during the 1980s before moving to the quiet village of Williton, Somerset, in 1994.

Famed as a temple to the ‘material of a thousand uses’, the Grade II listed building features a private collection of the world’s first synthetic plastic.

Rooms are jam-packed full of grand radios, televisions, projectors, vases and elegant bowls.

Life at the museum had been unspoilt for 17 years before the visit of a firefighter in June.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service then closed the museum down and ordered changes to be made.

Mr Cook, a hardworking father of one, dutifully made minor alterations and re-opened the Bakelite Museum – only to be hit by ANOTHER ten pages of red tape two weeks ago.

Changes include the building of a second internal stairway, an external stairway and the replacement of a upper level exit hatch used to transport people out of the building.

Mr Cook added: ”This is an old building with lots of stairs. Do authorities want these exhibits in a modern hard-edged building?

”I don’t want people to experience them in that way.

”This is a wonderful experience, about industrial history and the beginning of mass production.

”They don’t want our customers to take any risks, but I think it’s up to them to decide whether, for instance, they wanted to go up our steep staircase or not.

”This is a beautiful building and should not be interfered with.”

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service confirmed it was working with the Bakelite Museum to ensure it conformed to fire safety requirements laid out in the 2005 Regulatory Reform Order 2005.

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