Crich General Manager resigns

The Tramway Museum Society have released a shock announcement this evening that Tony Hill, the General Manager of Crich Tramway Village, has resigned from his position. This has come as a major blow to the museum as Mr Hill had only been appointed earlier this year, and was just beginning to introduce some new ideas to try and boost the attraction following several years of falling visitor numbers.

Tony Hill officially tendered his resignation on Friday 18th October, and this was formally announced to TMS members on Tuesday 22nd October. His last day of work at Crich will be Friday 1st November. Only recently, Tony had revealed some ambitious plans to improve the overall visitor experience at Crich during 2014, including such innovations as daily displays of tramcars on the depot fan, and the creation of a new stop at Glory Mine allowing passengers to alight from trams at this picturesque location. It is hoped that at least some of these proposals will still become reality as, to be blunt, the current trend of decline cannot continue for much longer before the long-term viability of the museum is called into question.

The reason given for Mr Hill’s decision to quit his post is so that he can take up an alternative post nearer to his home at Manchester. However, recent suggestions have implied that some of Mr Hill’s instructions for the 2013 season were not agreed on by other senior museum people, and there have been a few rumours that attempts have been made to limit his power. Hopefully this is not true, as plans are now being made to restart the recruitment process so as to find a replacement General Manager, which will hopefully be more successful in the long term than the last attempt has proved to be! The Chairman of the Tramway Museum Society was keen to emphasise the importance of having a good Manager recently, stating that if Mr Hill’s attempts to improve the museum’s fortunes failed, the museum would be in grave trouble. It is to be sincerely hoped that the worst case scenario will not occur, although this unexpected blow will undoubtedly be seen as another backward step for this organisation. Hopefully despite Tony Hill’s stint as Manager being a very brief one, some of the ideas he has injected into the museum will be acted on, and help to ensure that 2014 is a better season than 2013 has been.

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33 Responses to Crich General Manager resigns

  1. The Bell Tolls For Crich says:

    He was hailed as almost messiah figure. The man that would save Crich Tramway Village. As soon as he started announcing plans for next year. We had people (quite senior) saying well their just ideas yet be discussed with the “board” etc etc.

    Well they’ve won. the old guard didn’t want a manager and now they have got what they always wanted.

    They might have “won” in their eyes. But in reality increased the rate of demise. People are now openly using the words when not if…

    A dark dark day for preservation. Just glad other places continue to raise the bar…

  2. Daniel says:

    Awful news. I hope Crich find a new manager soon and that many of the older volunteers start to realise that change needs to happen if the museum is going to survive.

  3. Daniel says:

    Something really needs to be done to stop the situation getting any worse. Can the council help out in any way? The National Tramway Museum cannot just shut down, it would be a tragedy.

  4. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    A big shame. Crich badly needs to move forward and embrace the challenges ahead with fresh ideas not stand still. New young blood needed also a realisation that there are modern trams out there. Life did not end in 1962!

  5. Nathan Honest says:

    Oh dear. Hear come the Anti-Crich doomsayers yet again. The comments on a certain other tramway site are even more ridiculous, with people predicting the museum’s closure within 5 years! Honestly. Crich is at the forefront of British tramway preservation, and whether you like it or not, Crich is the biggest and best tramway museum in Britain and always will be. They are trams in it’s care that are more individually significant than other museum’s entire collections. What needs to happen now is enthusiasts putting their grudges aside and supporting Crich through this difficult time, even the expense of other projects, until a new General Manager can be found to lead the museum on to future sucsess. To be honest, I doubt Tony Hill’s policies would have worked anyway. Crich needs to advertise itself more, e g signs on major motorways, vouchers in the paper,etc.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      But the fact of the matter is, if Crich runs out of money it WILL have to close. It can’t just run on reputation alone – that doesn’t pay the bills! I have always been convinced that the ‘doom brigade’ who claim that Crich could close are wrong, but I now fear they are right. And some of your comments are frankly very offensive to other tramway preservation groups. At the end of the day no enthusiasts are obliged to support Crich, and if people en masse choose to offer their time and money to the likes of Heaton Park/Birkenhead/Beamish/East Anglia instead, then Crich will continue to decline… as for whether or not Tony Hill’s policies would work, I suspect it is more a case of whether they would be allowed to work!

      • Nathan Honest says:

        No enthusiasts are obliged to support Crich, but if the museum really does run in to dire straits to the point it could close, they should. Other tramway groups are making better progress than Crich at the moment, I admit, but what it all comes down to at the end of the day are the trams. Some of the vehicles in the TMS’s collection are irreplaceable; Blackpool Dreadnought 59, LCC 1, Glasgow 1282, Leeds 600, Blackpool 762 to name a few. If Crich closes, where would they go? Other tramways may offer a better ‘experience’ so to speak, but Crich is priceless. Enthusiasts shouldn’t really support Crich at the expense of other projects unless things get really, really bad; but I stand by the message of my original posts: Enthusiasts should not endanger priceless trams because they don’t like the way a museum is run. This applies to any museum tramway, no matter how important/unimportant their collection is.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          I understand what you are saying, but don’t agree with it entirely. I am sure that Bryan Lindop would ensure that most, if not all of the TMS owned Blackpool cars would be housed at Blackpool in a ‘worst case scenario’, certainly the likes of 59 and 762. The reference to Leeds 600 is also interesting, as it is no longer visible to the public and is often described as a waste of space by many TMS people! For the record, I think that to lose the National Tramway Museum would be an absolute tragedy, but I would hope that steps would be taken to secure the futures of individual vehicles by organisations and enthusiasts with a particular interest in those cars.

    • Daniel says:

      Yes to the advertising. Barely anyone has heard of this place in comparison to heritage railways. Not even in Derby or Sheffield is it hugely well known but it needs to be if it is going to survive.
      I don’t really understand the change in attitude as I don’t volunteer there so it’s hard to comment but it always seems very friendly when I visit, the volunteers are nice and the workshop staff have given me a tour which was great.
      They need to try and attract families back as Mr. Hill realised. I hope his aims are not lost.

    • The Bell Tolls For Crich says:

      Several points need to be addressed:

      1) No organisation however big however impressive their collection is immune to failure. If numbers continue the way they are even the Crich biggest supporters recognise the existence of the place is in doubt.

      2) You mention Tonys Hill policies not working. Do you know what his plans were. Only recently were the first phase of a series of initial phases were announced. Came with a impressive highly successful record and a very very impressive resume.

      3) If the operation continues to follow its downward trend the facts are it cannot sustain the operation. Your probably right they could probably hobble on longer that 5 years by simply eating through their cash reserves. But make no mistake its existence in the medium term is at stake…

      4) It may be the biggest but but size isn’t always a key factor in peoples decision making process. Various factors go into deciding whether i visit somewhere regularly. Am sure am not alone in that respect….

      5) Perhaps people simply committing time to other places where they can see their appreciated and able to make a difference.

  6. Deckerman says:

    I have to say that whilst this is a real shame, it really sadly,isn’t a massive shock to me at least. “They who must be obeyed”, have never really seemed to have liked the idea of having a manager, as of course, it potentially takes power away from them.

    The thing is, whilst they may have won the battle, they certainly haven’t won the war, as what is the next move? Waste more increasingly rare and valuable funds re-recruiting for yet another manager, to then simply get him, or her, to again have their position made to be untenable if they don’t agree with one or other of their ideas?

    This is basically what, in my book at least, is wrong with the whole damn place.

    They feel it is their own personal little “Hornby Tram Set”, to exclusively use as they wish. Well, it isn’t. It’s a NATIONAL collection and therefore it is, if not answerable to, certainly dependent upon, the nation’s population for it’s very existence and it seemed, whilst admittedly early days, that was what Mr Hill was starting to recognise.

    As I have stated before, like it or not, if anything is to survive nowadays, it must give people what they want. And not even necessarily the enthusiast, as, on the whole, it isn’t the enthusiasts that keep the majority of the revenue coming in. It’s mummy, daddy and 2.4 kiddies that do. Mr Hill seemed to be recognising and then starting to rectify that, but from my experience they that “govern” in deepest darkest Derbyshire, don’t like even tram fans muckying their lovely clean tramcars, never mind the great unwashed, so I feel Mr Hill sadly had no chance.

    If it wasn’t for what detrimentally could happen to the trams in the meantime, I’d say it should close and then reopen under new realistic, real world and sustainable management because, at this rate it just isn’t going to be credible for much longer. When that happens on top of it’s already endemic and systemic bad attitude to just about anyone, the writing really is on the wall for this bunch, especially when others like Heaton Park, Beamish, Sunderland and despite their “issues” ( which are admittedly different ones ) Birkenhead, are doing so well in their place. If you have a great time at one place and are treated like dirt at another, which one are you going to go back to? Not rocket science is it?

    For God’s sake wake up Crich, before it’s too late and God forbid, London 1622 has another genuine “Last Tram Week ” poster on her sides.

  7. Greg Marsden says:

    My goodness! This is a terrible blow. Having looked again at the books from the last two years, I wonder if having fully appraised himself of the situation, Mr. Hill has decided that it is hopeless. It is two minutes to midnight for the NRM.

    • The Bell Tolls For Crich says:

      Maybe not two minutes. But certainly a lot of people will be checking their watches more frequently…

      If it does sink is their enough life jackets to save the collection…

  8. Ken Walker says:

    Bryan Lindop better start getting Rigby Road ready for another mass invasion of homeless trams from Dinosaurland.

    • The Bell Tolls For Crich says:

      How many can he physically fit in…

      Reckon at a stretch he could fit the Blackpool Cars at Crich (maybe a extra)

      Guess the other places could ramp up capacity for Armageddon scenario…. Beamish, NEETT, Blackpool, Heaton, East Anglia

  9. Geoff. Stones says:

    I’m not a tram enthusiast but have visited Crich a few times recently,sorry but the place is rubbish.The people who give their time or work there are great to deal with but who wants to push their way between Trams shoehorned into a building where you can barely move,how many times can you take a tram ride to nowhere,what do those 2.4 children do to occupy themselves etc. etc.If they don’t address the problem of satisfying ‘Joe public’ and catering less for the enthusiast they will certainly go under.

  10. Phil Burgin says:

    Having read all the above comments, I believe that the people on both sides of this discussion are reacting in a ridiculous manner. Although I have only a little knowledge of the way crich is run and how they are perceived by other preservation groups/enthusiasts, it seems everyone is missing the main point. That is that no matter how people feel about the management at crich, the most important thing are the trams and to be honest keeping them together as a representative collection for this country.

    I have no doubt that a lot of hard work went into setting up the museum in the first place and credit is due for this, but if some of the opinions I hear are true, the current management needs to acknowledge there is a lot of bad feeling towards them and how the museum is perceived. This needs to be recognised more than ever to change things for the better, embrace what other preservation groups are all about and extend a welcoming hand to all that want to help and contribute to the museums future. At times like this, this is important, because people aside I believe we all don’t want to see the demise of this collection.

    I would also say that the anti-crich briggade need to also realise what could happen here and appreciate the collection for what it is and differences aside, strive to ensure it stays together. All this negativity and back bitting is unproductive and in my view petty.

    Time to draw a line fellow enthusiasts and look after what we are all interested in, the trams. I am sure no one wants to see trams been spread around the country or indeed abroad! look at the uproar when the blackpool boat was sold to america, surely we all don’t want a repeat of that.

  11. Ken Walker says:

    The people you refer to as the ‘anti-Crich brigade’ (they are actually nothing of the sort – just like yourself they are only concerned about the vehicles) are all too aware of what could happen, that’s why they are speaking out, especially as the perception is that the Board have a totally blinkered and intransigent attitude which could destroy the whole operation. We don’t have to go very far back to remember what has happened / is happening to another Northern-based “tram preservation group” who displayed contempt for any views that differed from their own. Those who criticised the LTT’s ‘opponents’ largely ended up having to eat their words.
    Tony Hill has obviously been a Manager who cares about Crich during his short stay, and if he has felt obliged to leave because of obstructive attitudes from the Board, as some people are suggesting, this will send a clear message to anyone else passionate about the Collection, not to bother applying for the post.
    As far as criticism of the Organisation is concerned, as I said regarding LTT, the time to worry is when people stop making valid criticism, because that might just mean that they have had enough and stopped caring.

  12. David Holt says:

    It might be helpful to look at the quotation which might lie behind the pseudonym “The Bell Tolls For Crich”. What John Donne (1571-1631) actually said was “. . . never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. In other words, an ill wind turns none to good, and we should be concerned about the implications of changing social patterns, etc, for the wider preservation movement, of which Crich is just one example. Grasping a complete and accurate picture of the various trends might help the TMS to respond effectively to the present situation.
    Well, I understand what I’m trying to say, I hope others can.

    • Not the Centre of Universe says:

      Think the point is. The shift has actually benefited the other groups. We seeing the fruits of localism.

      People were sick and tired of the power been in one place of the country. Now the smaller museums/lines seen growth and people are spending the time and money more evenly spread across the groups. Rather than fighting the loosing battle trying to bring about change at Crich they simply put their time and energy elsewhere…

    • phil burgin says:

      I agree completely. The museum needs to look at current popular trends that people do with their leisure time and run events to appeal to them. What about craft fairs, food festivals etc. Not necessarily tram linked but geared to generate income.

  13. John Woodman says:

    The achievements of the Tramway Museum at Crich over 50 years from a standing start when tram preservation was desperately needed as system after system finally closed – is to be wholly commended.

    Development of the site and assemblage of a core collection has now expanded to the point where offsite and out of sight storage is essential. Regrettably Society Members who have closer engagement with the museum than myself have reason to voice concern and exasperation over the direction and oversight of the operation and strategy (or perceived lack of) by the Board. This gave rise to the abortive EGM two years ago which achieved little or no meaningful change other than obliging the appointment of a Manager with laudable aims and apparent mandate that transcended existing structural norms.

    Now that the Manager, whom I do not know personally, has found reason to resign this position after an all too brief tenure – the case for the Society to take stock of its modus operandi (and its finances) is even more necessary. It may well be that he did indeed find the travel to and from Crich to be overly onerous; but this is an issue which was very clearly in place at the time of his appointment.

    There is no doubt that the case for siting a ‘National Museum’ in a hard to reach location in the Derbyshire Peak District – has become less and less justified. Particularly when access by anything other than private car is more or less impossible for those travelling to the Museum over any significant distance. Expressions over cost, time and personal aggravation in getting to Crich have become all too familiar refrains in this medium and other places.

    The cummulative impact of higher and higher petrol prices, reduction in discretionary spending power for most of the population, increased admission charges for a stagnant ‘visitor attraction’, and competitive heritage transport venues more easily accessed elsewhere in the country – underpin the raison d’etre for an ever declining visitor count (and volounteer participation) in the Museum’s operation.

    None of this is rocket science and nor is a market consultant study needed to understand that these factors have an absolutely detrimental impact on the business case for the Society’s Museum operation as it stands. These factors have been in clear view for over a decade now; and with even greater force following the financial market collapse in 2008 – with imposition of an era of austerity causing living standards to fall faster together with contracting incomes.

    The rationale for enthusiasts with willingness to take on volountary work and contribute in diverse ways to more accessible tram heritage projects closer to their homes is self evident. The achievements of tram museums elsewhere, particularly in the north of England and away from London, have significantly diminished the role of the Crich operation directly and indirectly. This trend will continue for both young and old enthusiasts. Those of us with firsthand memories of the first generation systems in their declining years – are themselves in decline. More recent generations assign their interest to local preservation projects, foreign travel, and the lingering remnants of the Blackpool tramway. Whilst light rail is to be applauded wherever it takes form, the affection and interest in modular foreign built vehicles has far less appeal or interest. Is there a case for a Metrolink tram to be secured for the Crich collection? I think not. No, funds instead go to bequesting the recreation of a Manchester double deck bogie car of the 1920s – and for example making headway in the Heaton Park tramway expansion.

    Creating a calendar of ‘special events’ and displays in the Crich calendar just might incrementally slow the decline in visitor footfall but like the iceberg event which sank a great ocean liner – maintaining a high overhead specialist heritage museum of limited interest in a difficult to reach location and a declining membership base is a lost cause. The summer transport heritage calendar is now crammed with events, rallies, exhibitions, displays and themed projects all competing for discretionary enthusiast spend. Whereas once upon a time Crich was indeed THE place in Britain for tram enthusiasts to congregate en masse several times a year – now it has to contend with a geographic diversity of tramway heritage attractions, most more readily accessible by public transport and with cheap accommodation close at hand. These essential factors, and much more, impel need to urge a root and branch appraisal of the Society’s affairs and direction, aided by independent assessment with commercial and economic expertise reporting to the Membership of the Society and not placed simply before the ‘Board of Management’.

    Critics of the Society’s management strove to bring about a ‘sea change’ in the way the Museum’s operation were being steered. Their efforts were (and continue to be) in vain. The finances of the Society and the Museum tell their own story. The Society’s appointed Auditors and Advisors have a duty to offer professional opinions to the Board over and above a line by line accountancy audit. Sooner or later the lines of declining income, declining visitor numbers, increasing capital and operating costs will cross over to make the Museum unsustainable as a business entity. When that happens the Society will have no choice but to close the Museum to paying visitors and discharge its employees. A sale of assets would follow, however distasteful this may be to consider.

    Siting a specialist museum such as the one operated at Crich has to cut its cloth to economic conditions. Either it forms part of a larger whole such as is the case at Beamish and the Black Country Museum; or is located in close proximity to its market and volounteer base such as Heaton Park, Birkenhead and the nascent tram scheme near Sunderland; or it is able to tap into seasonal leisure travel such as Lowestoft and Beamish (again); and dare I say Blackpool.

    There was, and still is, a good case to be made for splitting the Society’s collection by creating two or more NTM North, South or West venues. These could be done through stand alone displays in their own right more accessible in or around London; or in Wales or indeed in the south west of England. If Scotland votes to become Independent next year – perhaps an emergent case will indeed be made to return the trams saved by Scottish enthusiasts and their money – to a venue on the Clyde, complementing the marvellous Riverside Museum in that location. In the meantime we will all gravitate to Lowestoft to see Glasgow 488 take to the rails again, albeit for a very short journey.

    I return to the immense amount of personal effort put into the development of the Crich site and its collection over the years – in particular the infrastructure which has benefitted from especial attention and contributions by a small number of Members. The quality of restoration of trams in the Workshop is of course superlative – but then so are similar projects elsewhere, and from far more limited resources and infinitely smaller budgets. The great preponderance of the Society’s collection is huddled closely together in darkened sheds with others exiled to a gulag in Clay Cross out of view of even the Society’s members themselves.

    Clearly there is a remarkable collection of trams and a viable operation that can be preserved in situ at Crich. However it is not sustainable in its present form and without radical change to overcome inertia and ossified structures put in place in better times – the Museum’s future and Society’s assets are at risk. There have been diverse accounts put in place for rainy days and laudable but unachievable goals. The huge fund lying undisturbed for completing the restoration of Blackpool railcoach 298 being but one example. How many more years will this cash fund benefit anyone other than the bank? Or indeed other lodes of cash held in case there is need to man the lifeboats. I believe the lifeboats are now need to be prepared for launching. Unless the Society is able to raise its head collectively and face economic and market realities – man the lifeboats will become a reality in due course, perhaps not for some more years, but inevitably the auditors will have to be called in. And we will all be the losers – Members of the Society or not. A tram museum with the overheads and capital needs of the NTM at Crich cannot survive on enthusiast visits, or bequests, or any amount of Lottery grants; nor can it surmount the financial challenges it faces by tinkering around at the edges. We should all have cause for concern – with orange lights blinking alarmingly on the line ahead.

    John Woodman

  14. Malcolm Chisholm says:

    I had only just read Tony Hill’s article in the TMS Journal when I read Colin Heaton’s message on Facebook that Tony has resigned! Tony’s article led me to believe that we (the TMS) were going to bring our marketing and operations up to date in order to climb back up the tourism popularity scale.

    Let us hope that we can appoint another manager soon, in order that Tony’s ideas (or something similar) can be put into practice. It is certain that we cannot go on as we have been!

    One request to fellow members – let us work together constructively with whoever replaces Tony.

    Best wishes to Tony for the future.

    Malcolm Chisholm

  15. Paul says:

    Reading through the above comments, it seems no-one believes the given reason for Tony Hill’s departure: i.e. he has been offered another position located closer to home (and probably at a higher salary than the TMS could afford to match) Knowing his reputation and the high regard he has in the museums/heritage sector I’m willing to take that at face value and not indulge in Conspiracy Theories…

    Where does it leave Crich? Well actually no worse than it was a year ago before his appointment, any even if just a few of the ideas he brought to the table are implemented some good will have come from his short period in charge.

    I agree though that Crich does need a strong independent manager who will introduce fresh ideas and a new approach to marketing & promotion, given the freedom to act, and with the presence to influence thinking of the often blinkered and set-in-their-ways Board. Tony Hill was an ideal candidate, a replacement does need to be appointed as soon as possible but attracting a person of suitable calibre will not be easy.

    Paul

  16. Pete C says:

    I hope Crich survives but as so many others have said the location is not good and location counts for an awful lot these days, especially as so many people have reduced incomes.

  17. David Taylor says:

    I am sorry to say I have to agree with the gentleman who said Crich is boring. As an enthusiast of all things tram I only go to Crich when I think something different is running as in the past it always seemed to be the same small group out.

    Crich also has lost opportunities the progress as the building of street scenes that could have been used as holiday lets and putting something of interest at the far end of the line. It took years to get the pub up and running as it was stored for ages before the building work started.

    Getting to Crich is also not too easy as I travel from Runcorn in Cheshire.and it takes two trains and a bus to get there which is not only expensive but time consuming. This is most likely why only locals come on a regular basis.

    I would not like to see it close but if it goes then two or three museums especially down south would be better than nothing. Send the Scottish trams home and give 869 to the people who restored it on Merseyside

    I believe money has been given to restore two of the trams so perhaps they could be given to groups that are willing to do the work instead of leaving the trams to rot and the money in the bank.

  18. David says:

    If Crich is to promote itself more, as some have commented, I suggest the Marketing Department ups the quality of the website. At present, the grammar and spelling are certainly not up to the standard that should be expected of a national museum. The Board member responsible needs to get their act together.