War Years Remembered in Ballyclare, Northern Ireland, closed its doors for the last time on 10 July – but is still holding on to hopes that the museum might be saved through fundraising.
Following lockdowns over the last year, the volunteer-run museum has lost almost all its annual income and is under threat of permanent closure unless it can find new premises.
The museum holds tens of thousands of items related to military and social history from the first and second world wars.
The inventory has grown from founder David McCallion’s personal collection. He started collecting aged eight, when his grandfather passed on a belt and chocolate tin from his service in the first world war, and War Years Remembered became a registered charity in 1994 before physically opening in a Ballyclare commercial warehouse in 2016.
McCallion describes the collection as “of national and global importance”, with artefacts representing wartime heritage from the UK, Ireland, the US, Belgium, Germany, Poland and beyond.
Throughout the pandemic the museum has continued to support researchers, documentary makers, authors, families and veterans, as well as engaging in community projects to support mental health and those with dementia.
The museum is independent and is not Accredited, making it ineligible for much of the recovery funding that has been made available across the UK. McCallion expressed frustration at the lack of financial support for independent museums, and said that the long-term goal of the museum’s team is to find a permanent home for the collection and seek Accreditation.
Earlier in 2021 the museum’s younger volunteers created the concept for the museum’s JustGiving fundraiser, In the Footsteps of Heroes. The campaign saw the museum’s volunteers and supporters using treadmills to undertake a sponsored walk of 602 miles – the distance from Ballyclare to the beaches at Normandy, France.
The museum has now raised over £29,000 of its £50,000 goal, but is still preparing to leave its current residence. The team has begun packing up and removing the collections from the building, which McCallion says is a “highly emotional” process that could take up to five months to complete.
In a statement on the War Years Remembered website, McCallion said: “With this money we can continue our vital work in remembering our veterans and the collection will be preserved for the education of future generations.”
In July 2019 McCallion received the Points of Light award from then-prime minister Theresa May, an accolade that recognises outstanding individual volunteers who are making a change in their community.
Supporters across social media have spoken out against the museum’s closure, as has South Antrim MP Paul Girvan, who told the Belfast Telegraph that he was a supporter of the museum and its work, expressing his concern for its future and commenting that “we really need to see what can be done to keep the collection together”.