SAL’s Fight to Stay at Burlington House

Posted in on site by Editor on November 28, 2020

From the Society of Antiquaries:

The Society of Antiquaries of London has launched a campaign to contest the rapidly escalating rental rates set by Government, in order to remain at Burlington House—its home for over 140 years.

A hub of discovery for the UK, the building houses thousands of unique artefacts, books, and works of art spanning centuries of human history, under the guardianship of the Society of Antiquaries. The result of nearly 300 years of acquisition, people come from all over the world to study the collections at Burlington House, where enthusiasts meet experts, and ideas are shaped in the Library and lecture room. From Burlington House, the Society runs regular public, educational and academic events, gives grants for research and conservation, and contributes to the formulation of public policy.

Since the 1870s, the Society has been based at Burlington House under a bespoke Government arrangement which has delivered immense public value as a hub of cultural and scientific discovery. Due to a change in Government accounting rules, the Society is now being effectively forced out because of rapidly escalating rents; already rent has increased by 3,100% since 2012.

After eight years spent attempting to seek a fair arrangement behind closed doors, the Society has now gone public to encourage the Government to recognise the immense value of the Society, its library and collections at Burlington House, and to find an affordable arrangement for the Society to remain.

By continuing an affordable tenancy for the Society at Burlington House, the Government can enable a new era of public engagement with our heritage. The Society is already making progress towards modernising to ensure the nation’s history that the Society represents both reflects and reaches a more diverse public—progress which has been slowed by the ongoing uncertainty over its future. Resolving this looming threat would mean the Society is able to continue its plans to further increase public engagement, and generate income which can be reinvested in exhibitions and activities in communities across the UK.

With the Society’s precious collection and public value activities there are options for the Government to recognise this value against that of the long-term tenancy. A 2019 assessment by PwC estimated that 78% (£4.2 million) of the total gross value delivered each year by the Society of Antiquaries (£5.4 million) would be at risk if the Society is forced to relocate. According to this, the Government is set to lose 44 times what it would gain through the current agreement (approximately £120,000 in income per year compared to £5.4 million in public value).

The uncertainty of the Society’s tenure has already restricted its contributions to society over the last eight years, with investment in the building and public engagement activities shelved, and resources instead directed at quietly appealing to the Government to agree an affordable solution.

Without resolution, relocation represents a major threat to the continued existence of the Society in its current form. Leaving Burlington House would require the prohibitively costly process of recreating the infrastructure to house its unique collections elsewhere, while moving fragile historical items en masse is a huge and extremely costly undertaking in itself. As a self-supporting charity, the Society is under enormous pressure to raise funds for alternative premises to house its unrivalled library, unique archive and historically significant museum collections where they would remain safe and ensure they are accessible to academics, students, and the historically curious public.

An almost unthinkable yet looming scenario is that the Society may have to sell items from its collection to fund new premises in order to appropriately house the rest of its artefacts, even outside of a major city. In such a scenario, it is possible the UK may see items of huge historical importance go overseas, and they may no longer be available for research or education purposes. If you wish to get in contact with us, please email saveBH@sal.org.uk. For press enquiries, please email saveBH@sal.org.uk. To follow our story on social media please follow the hashtag #SocAntiquaries. Click here for FAQs.

What You Can Do

1  Write to your MP
You can write to your local MP to ask for their support for the Society’s continued residency in Burlington House.

2  Raise awareness on social media
You can help to get the message out by using the hashtag #SocAntiquaries on social media channels. There are free-to-use images available here including Burlington house and our priceless collection of historical artefacts.

3  Share your Society story and submit a testimonial to be published on our website
We would love to hear your stories of how the Society has contributed to your interests, supported your research, or informed your thinking. Share your testimonial on what the Society means to you, and why you believe it should remain at Burlington House.

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