Museum name change causes concern for loss of local heritage

The Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket will become the Food Museum in March

The museum, in Stowmarket, is undergoing a name change. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Managers of one of Suffolk's most-loved museums have defended their decision to change its name after residents claimed the switch may lead to a loss of local heritage.

The Museum of East Anglian Life, in Stowmarket, is to change its name to the Food Museum.

However, the museum says it was clear people were confused by the current name and a change would make the museum "more appealing to bring more people in".

Concerned resident and creator of the 'Save the Museum of East Anglian Life' petition, Matthew Attwood said: "Changing the name and ethos of the museum would mean the loss of the only institution established to celebrate and preserve East Anglian culture, heritage, and history. It's a lot more than just a name.

"The charitable objects of the museum refer to 'all the varied aspects of East Anglian life', but under these plans East Anglia will only have a tangential relationship to the main interest of food.

"I am deeply concerned that this means the museum will stop collecting our material heritage and may even disperse existing collections.

"I fail to see how a generic theme like food will attract visitors.

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"Management and trustees should step back and explain their precise plans and what this would mean for the current collection as well as future acquisitions."

The museum though has defended the decision, reaffirming its belief that there will not be a loss of local heritage, and that the move will help to "share local heritage with a wider audience".  

A spokesperson for the museum said: “This started in 2018, when we did a big consultation with our staff, our volunteers and trustees around the future of the museum and where it was going in the next 10 years.

“What came out of it was that a lot of our buildings and collections really relate to food. 

“So, we started to do some more consultation work. We did some surveys in Colchester, Norwich and Stowmarket, as well as a few other key areas of East Anglia. 

“What came out of those conversations was that people weren't really sure what was in the Museum of East Anglian life. 

“So that triggered us into thinking that we needed an easier to understand name for the museum." 

The museum says changing the name and focus of the venue would to be "able to tell other really interesting stories around the topic of food that could bring more people to the museum and the area".

The spokesperson added: “We’re changing our name but keeping our collections which do tell the story of food and farming in East Anglia. 

“There is still so much about the local area that we’re still really proud of and our heritage that’s led us to become the museum that we have. It’s a real priority for us, our local heritage. 

“We’ve recently restored our water mill, we’ve got another Suffolk punch horse, we’re doing an exhibition called food stories, going out into villages in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Essex.

“We’re just trying to make it more appealing to bring more people in, that’s the key."