Job losses as Battle Abbey cuts opening hours

FIVE people have been made redundant from Battle Abbey after English Heritage decided to slash the site’s winter opening hours.

English Heritage said it was forced to cut opening hours following a reduction in Government grants.

During the winter season (November 1 until March 31) the Abbey had previously opened between 10am-4pm, seven days a week.

But from November 1, the Abbey will open on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Seven members of the English Heritage visitor operations team at Battle Abbey have been affected by the changes to the winter opening hours.

Of those seven, five are taking redundancy and the other two have accepted alternative contracts.

English Heritage stressed that “in the majority of cases”, it was able to support the “first preference wishes” of staff.

A spokesperson for English Heritage told the Observer the decision to reduce the winter opening hours had been made after it was discovered just nine per cent of the total annual visitors to the Abbey came to the site during weekdays over the winter period.

However the Abbey will be open for the February school half term.

Michael Murray-Fennell, senior communications manager at English Heritage, said: “In common with most visitor attraction operators, English Heritage regularly reviews the opening hours at the historic sites in our care to ensure we are responding to visitor demand and running them as efficiently as possible.

“Having looked at current visitor patterns, and bearing in mind the 32 per cent reduction to our Government grant in future years, we are adjusting our winter opening times (1 November until 31 March) with effect from 1 November 2011.

“The changes will see more English Heritage properties open at winter than ever before and no sites which are currently open will close.

“There will also be an expanded winter events programme for visitors and English Heritage members.

“Fourteen properties which are usually closed during the winter period will now open at weekends.

“Those properties which opened on certain weekdays between November and March will now only open at the weekends (with the exception of Stonehenge and Old Sarum in Wiltshire and Kenwood House in north London) – winter is the quietest time of the year and a tiny proportion of these sites’ total visitors come during the winter weekdays.

“Those properties which only opened at winter weekends will continue to do so.

“A number of the properties will open for the whole of February half term and for those years where Easter falls in March, all the properties will open.

“Taken together, this will increase our winter offering of properties where an admission fee is charged, from 62 to 76.

“As per usual, most of our 260 free properties would remain open throughout the winter period.

“In light of the reduction in our grant and the savings that we have to make, we believe that this option is the best one.

“A lot of operators of similar historic visitor attractions close their properties completely over the winter period.

“We have no intention of doing this.”