21st Apr, 2021

Council votes to close World Rugby Hall of Fame

Editorial Correspondent 12th Mar, 2021 Updated: 17th Mar, 2021

THE WORLD Rugby Hall of Fame will close permanently if councillors agree to the proposal at a meeting on Tuesday (March 16).

The initial four-year licence agreement for the venue, which opened in Rugby Art Gallery and Museum in November 2016, ended last November.

A Rugby Borough Council (RBC) spokesperson said the council had been open to negotiating a new extended licence – but a final agreement could not be reached.

RBC leader Coun Seb Lowe said: “The reality is that with limited funding we cannot choose to keep the World Rugby Hall of Fame open over support for economic recovery, tackling climate change or promoting health and wellbeing.

“We have looked at every option and discussed every scenario, including other funding models and other venues.

“We will of course continue to support the special relationship that Rugby has with the game as its birthplace.

“I look forward to working with partners on plans to mark 200 years since the game of Rugby was founded here in 1823.”

In 2018, claims that the Hall of Fame was ‘being run at a loss at the taxpayer’s expense’ were strongly rejected by the council’s leader at the time.

Coun Michael Stokes said Rugby Labour Party’s claims that the tourist attraction had failed to generate the promised income – repeated in a Private Eye article – were based on a misunderstanding of figures.

The article, based on a Freedom of Information request by a contributor from Rugby, claimed the annual cost of hosting, licensing and operating the Hall of Fame was nearly £350,000 – on top of an initial £1.2million outlay by RBC.

But a council spokesman said the £1.2million figure was the total cost of running the attraction for the initial four year period, adding that the Private Eye’s local contact had “assumed erroneously that the amount paid in year one is in addition to the overall cost of the project”.

The spokesman also denied Labour’s claim the museum received all-party approval on the basis that it would generate income of £500,000 per year, saying there had never been such a forecast.

A council agenda stated the Hall of Fame had generated £145,000 less than expected due to “an underachievement of ticketing income, sponsorship and ancillary services” – but the spokesman said visitor charges were only introduced part-way through that year, to make the attraction more attractive to group visit organisers.

Speaking in 2018, Coun Stokes said the Private Eye’s local contributor was “clearly of the view that the World Rugby Hall of Fame was meant to be a commercial project, which is manifestly not the case.

“Councillors from all political groups accepted unanimously there would be a net cost to the council and that the benefits of supporting the diversification of the town centre with a world class visitor attraction outweighed the potential costs.”

The World Rugby Hall of Fame was due to be one of the attractions promoted as part of RBC’s new partnership with Shakespeare’s England, which was announced in January.

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