Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mills Observatory - an update

A number of constituents have expressed concern to me regarding the decision by Leisure and Culture Dundee to close Mills Observatory to normal public opening between April and September, concerns also expressed by a number of organisations and Dundee TV personality Lorraine Kelly.

I therefore raised with Leisure and Culture Dundee a number of questions that constituents had made and their Head of Cultural Services has responded as follows:
Please see below in response to the enquiry that you made.       During this process we had consultation with Staff, trade unions, Mills Observatory Advisory Group and Dundee Astronomical Society.   Further discussion with Friends of Balgay and other interested parties took place.  
a) Dates of the closure - The Mills Observatory will not be closing per se.  During our summer opening period from 1 April to 30 September the Observatory will be open to the public on selected targeted dates with a variety of events and activities.  This is published on the Mills Observatory website and is notified through Facebook postings also.   
b) Where are staff redeployed to? - As part of Cultural Services, Visitor Assistant Team staff work throughout the year at the following venues: The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum, Broughty Castle Museum, and Mills Observatory.  The staff who are generally based at Mills Observatory will work between The McManus and Broughty Castle Museum during the summer opening period, but will be based at the Mills Observatory on the selected dates as published above.   
c) Can groups still book the venue (eg Friends of Balgay) for meetings? - Access to the Observatory can be arranged and dates have been confirmed with the Friends of Balgay following a meeting I had with (them).  They have scheduled meetings taking place on 26 April, 26 July and 18 October.  They have also requested their annual litter pick have access to Mills for practical reasons and once this date is confirmed we can make final arrangements.  
Dundee Astronomical Society have also scheduled their series of meetings over this summer period.  The Mills Observatory remains as a wedding venue for the city and we will continue to take bookings as required.   
d) What events were run in 2013 during the equivalent period and will any similar ones be run at the same period this year? - A total of 26 events, including summer planetarium shows, Dundee Astronomical meetings and children's activities, were delivered April to September 2013 with a total of 30 similar events taking place for this period in 2014.   
e) What were visitor numbers in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the period that is now to be a closure period? - The visitor numbers are as follows: 
April to September 2011 - 3,976
April to September 2012 - 3,647
April to September 2013 - 3,895 
The focus on our targeting of events during this period will be for specific activities and events indicated in response to question d.  I am hopeful that our targeted programming will be at least on par with previous years.   
In addition to the questions you have asked, it would be useful to note that the Mills Observatory is undergoing a number of upgrades to the fabric of the building and some repairs to the dome itself and we are keen to have a refreshed venue ready for the new season starting 1 October when we carry out 80% of our engagement in the winter period.  
I have asked that Leisure and Culture Dundee closely monitors visitor numbers to ensure there is no drop in this and I would also welcome residents' views on the feedback above.