Loss of jobs in Turner Contemporary restructure

Turner Contemporary Photo Frank Leppard

A restructure at Turner Contemporary has resulted in three redundancies and the loss of jobs for a number of casual staff understood to have been employed on zero hour contracts.

Staff received an email from Head of Visitor Experience and Engagement Toby Parkin at the beginning of November to inform them of changes that are understood to affect 40 workers.

The letter told staff a review of the Front of House functions including visitor experience, operations, retail, facilities and security had been carried out and a new Visitor Experience and Engagement team formed. The next phase was the removal of gallery assistant and navigator roles with affected employees invited to apply for 16 newly created engagement assistant jobs with contracted hours. A pool of between five and 10 casual workers will also be created.

Mr Parkin, who was formerly at the Science Museum, was employed by the gallery in 2019 and it is understood part of his remit was to streamline operations.

Documents seen by The Isle of Thanet News say the main focus has been to improve the experience of visitors but “the gallery also faces financial challenges given dwindling public investment in the arts and the Covid-19 pandemic. The document says the review has been undertaken to “safeguard jobs and the gallery’s future.”

The 16 new posts are for contracted hours of between 11 and 35 hours per week. The move means the loss of around 24 roles.

Turner Contemporary Photo Visit Thanet

Turner Contemporary closed in March due to covid restrictions. It reopened in July but then closed in September for scheduled upgrade works.

The gallery is now closed until February 2021 while the improvement works take place, which include a redesigned retail area which will showcase products and artworks from the gallery’s creative community, new and additional toilet facilities, new café furniture, installation of lighter doors to each of the galleries and faster Wi-Fi. The CCTV system will be upgraded, and a new finishing kitchen will improve the capacity of the café and enable it to stay open during events.

Improving the environmental efficiency of the building is central to the building works, including the replacement of halogen lighting with LED lighting which will greatly reduce electricity consumption and costs.

The aim is for the gallery to increase its financial resilience and provide a better experience for the thousands of visitors that it welcomes each year. An 86 space, fee charged car park to bring income into the gallery is also planned for a separate works project.

The reopening next year will mark the gallery’s tenth anniversary.

Yesterday (December 11) it was announced a grant of £264,514 has been awarded to Kent County Council on behalf of Turner Contemporary from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. The funding is earmarked for the upgrade.

The cafe has been shut since March Photo Vinny-Whiteman.

One affected worker told The Isle of Thanet News: “We put ourselves out to help them for the 6 weeks after Lockdown when they were open. We had to be masked and sanitised and at that stage we were all scared about returning during the Pandemic.

“We had 40 gallery assistants. They emailed saying the role of gallery assistant no longer existed. This meant we didn’t have a job with them. They then told us they had created a new role of experience assistant. This role differed from gallery assistant because it encompassed a new job description involving outreach work and working with schoolchildren.

“The new role would involve new training and enhanced DBS. They said there would be 16 jobs as experience assistants. They held interviews at the end of last week in front of a panel and this involved presentations and questions. Friday the emails went out with the names of the successful applicants.

“As zero hour personnel we have not been told we are redundant but the remaining 24 have no job or redundancy pay.”

Photo Mel Chennell

In accounts lodged for Turner Contemporary with the Charity Commission for the year ending March 31,2020, it shows total income for the year amounted to £3,687,902. (2019: £3,125,404). Expenditure amounted to £4,116,340 (2019: £2,877,691).

The deficit for the financial year is partly due to the receipt of restricted funds in the previous year that have been spent in this year.

The projected total loss of income from retail, venue hire and catering commission as a result of the gallery closure, limitations on visitors when open, the closure of the café, which was unable to reopen during summer 2020, and limitations on delivery of venue hire and associated catering, is recorded as £241,000.

The costs of reopening the gallery during the summer, in line with physical distancing measures, ticketing for visit number management and tracking processes, were around £15,000, with ongoing monthly costs of £1000-£2000 for PPE and associated safety measures.

Children at Turner Contemporary Photography by John Sainsbury

The Trustees report accompanying the accounts adds: “The future impact of Covid-19 on budgets and financial forecasts is difficult to predict, but the team has taken a prudent approach to budgeting and has reconfigured the exhibitions programme for 2021-22 to deliver two exhibitions rather than three, as well as carefully managing other costs.”

The report says key risks relate to staffing and funding, adding: “Turner Contemporary needs highly skilled and flexible staff within the team. Recruitment in East Kent and within the museum and gallery sector is challenging. Our aim is to develop and retain staff.

“The other major risk relates to core public funding from Kent County Council (KCC) and Arts Council England (ACE). Year on year, core funding from KCC has reduced and we are working closely with colleagues at the County Council to diversify our funding portfolio.”

The annual bill for salaries (including pensions and other costs) came to £1,542,160 for 106 staff, including between £80,000 to £89,999 for one staff member.

Dan Thompson

Margate artist and writer Dan Thompson, who has worked on a number of Thanet projects including Roundabout theatre, Thanet Press, Margate Caves archaeology and Turner Contemporary schemes. said: “Turner Contemporary promised from the start that it would not just create jobs, but a pathway to lead local people into careers in the arts. Zero hours McJobs never sat well with that ambition, so it’s great to see better roles being created – but dropping trained, experienced staff doesn’t help people to develop careers. And getting rid of almost 30 staff in the current climate looks uncaring.”

Tai Shani, Turner Prize 2019 entry, Photograph by David Levene

A Turner Contemporary spokesperson said: “2020 has been an unprecedented year and, like many other organisations, global events are forcing us to work differently. Turner Contemporary has been evaluating the way it operates as an organisation to safeguard its long-term sustainability as a charity which creates transformation through arts and creativity.

“A review and restructure of its front of house and operation teams has been conducted whilst the gallery has been closed this autumn and a new Visitor Experience and Engagement department has been established.

“This review was driven by a desire to create permanent contracts for casual staff and to improve the quality of the visitor experience for local and wider audiences.  Whilst the process has resulted in three redundancies and a reduction in casual contracts, 16 new permanent roles have been created.

“Arts Council England announced a capital grant to Kent County Council (KCC) for building improvements to the gallery which is in the county council’s ownership. KCC will receive the grant of £264,514.  This funding is allocated to ensure the delivery of the capital scheme which is currently underway by KCC. This scheme will upgrade the gallery and ensure the quality of the visitor experience as one of Kent’s leading cultural attractions.”


    • There may be a number being paid £80,000 a year but whether they actually earn that sum is a totally different question . . .

  1. If this bean counter wants to streamline to save them wasting money, then why doesn’t he get rid of the member of staff on 80-90k a year-it cannot be anybody other than the person running it as her own ego trip for the last decade & get somebody in who knows what they are doing?

  2. This TC really isnt in the really world is it ? Gets grants after grants from our taxes, yet it lays of the minions. TC is an embarrassment.

  3. Oh dear! The Turner Contemporary is the gift that keeps on giving!
    A few hours after we find that the gallery/museum is the recipient of £264,000, we hear that staff on zero hours contracts are being cast aside in one of today’s ghastly euphemistic ways of cutting staff numbers.
    Ms Pomeroy and Mr Parkin should understand that these are real people, living through a pandemic and a severe economic slump and not some chess pieces that can be added or deleted at will.
    It’s an unlovable way of acting, by an organisation that struggles to find love or even respect from the community it purports to serve.
    I don’t think the DFL comment is valid, but you are right in that this is a hard hearted bureaucratic way of treating people.
    I suppose we should be grateful that Mr Parkin did not just text everyone concerned.
    Personally I would not enjoy Christmas if it was bought by sacrificing others wellbeing.

    • Thankyou for your sincere comments. I shall pass that onto the staff. Who so far, after years of dedicated work doing everything that has been asked of them , get kicked out at Christmas during a pandemic.

  4. After reading the way they have treated their existing staff , I’m surprised anyone would want to work for this smug employer ! I would have second thoughts about accepting a job offer from them !

  5. Interesting to see that they are very transparent about the wages of the lowest paid but not about the trustees and executives. It’s always the lowest paid who suffer. Of course they aren’t the only employees who suffer under these circumstances. It is always the less well off who are most affected. The wealthy ride most storms and yet many will always blame those worse off than themselves for the state of the economy and for their own impoverished circumstances. I would be interested to know what the DFL comment actually means. Easy to make a throw away remark without any justification for it. There are poor people in London on zero hours contracts losing their jobs too.

  6. Tossed aside amongst the rubbish after all they have done to welcome and show arty tourists around. They try and hide the figures of staff losses by alluding to new jobs being created, new highly skilled jobs, so train the staff you have instead of making them reapply. These are real people who need the income, not pawns in a silly game. Obviously, not a company which cares about their loyal staff.
    So much for all the promises Ms Pomeroy made about bringing regeneration to the area when this centre was set up 10 years ago among all the worry from local residents that the town would not benefit from the huge carbuncle. It is just take, take, take, while the town itself stays a derelict mess outside the art world circle. Those worried residents were right!

    • It was obvious it would happen, even before Covid. The majority of people only visit to have a laugh at some of the displays. I must admit I have been a regular attender, I find them hilarious, but just like others, you have to stand still, and pretend you are interested. It’s a shame people can’t be more honest.

      Hey, great pic of Margate Harbour for once Frank.

      • Cunning stunt said, “Hey, great pic of Margate Harbour”

        And it is the old builds to the right and the nice harbour clock building but slap bang in the middle a horrible looking grey big shed building for the arty people. That building really doesnt look right amongst the older builds.

        • Yes Mr X, my comment was referring to the view across the harbour. But, the Turner building is completely out of character. It’s the first thing you see, when you drive in to Margate. Just as you pass the Nayland Rock, and spot the beach on your left, the big ugly grey building comes into view straight ahead.

  7. Not just Pomeroy and Parkin, the Trustees and Patrons have a lot to answer for. Why steamroller ahead with the drastic changes whilst Covid is stripping bare the job availability? Just take a pause for goodness sake until this Pandemic is over and the Economy getting back together. The Trustees should have called a halt to this upheaval. They are people from the local economy…why are they so out of touch with peoples struggle during the Pandemic….?????

  8. Any working class artist should boycott the TC from now on. As should any working class art fans.
    Leave it to the middle and upper classes, to have free entry on OUR taxes. Disgrace and an embarrassment to margate. It’s done nothing to improve margate or thanet apart from a few arty shops within a few yards of the TC, nothing.

  9. How can TC have an annual wage bill of 1.5 million ? It really does need to start changing an entrance fee.

    Than by the foot fall you pay the wages accordingly, at the moment it’s a freebie so it’s not a true picture. I might spend 10 minutes having a laugh in there but if I had to pay a tenner than I wont go in. This free entrance is misleading. Charge a tenner or more a head and that’s see how many people really would use it. The wages dont represent the true foot fall.

    Even at a tenner a head thats cheap compared to gigs, sport, cinema, etc.

    • Have you seen the TV series called “Pulling” (BBC), in it there is a quote “if art galleries were actually fun, then they wouldn’t be free, that’s why none of them charge an entry fee, because there wouldn’t be any customers”

      It makes total sense to me, they are not fun, just somewhere to have a laugh. If they charged money to enter, they wouldn’t exist.

  10. This is unbelievable why aren’t local people who live art and Margate being employed?this is micromanagement of the lowest quality..did the 90k director initiate this?
    TC will pay in future for their fool hardyness with alienated poorer attendance and support for what has been two years of mediocre exhibition offers

  11. When first suggested there was a meeting about the proposed gallery, where on talking to a councillor at the time, it was said that the bulk of the money came via europe and that i had to be spent on an arts oriented project, so it was a case of take the investment or watch it go elsewhere.
    I’ve been several times but honestly find the majority of the art laughable and nigh on something out of a primary school. The Turner Prize exhibition was particularly comical and rounded off by the entrants sharing the prize. Family connection with a turner prize winner from the 80’s , elicited the view that few serious artists would be interested in putting the time effort and expense into an exhibition in margate. 10 years on their view seems to have been correct.
    As for the review of contracts of employment, if the gallery is to try and run on its own two feet in future it needs to be as efficient as possible and staff are a major expense. Throw enough moneynat the place and you can have all the jobs you want, or choose to give it no more free money and watch it run with lowest staffing costs it can.
    Take your pick

  12. No accountable by Kent County council and others when handling out grants. Turner centre should get some funding but so should other ‘ arts” such as theatre royal and winter gardens amongst others. Zero contracts are evil and no public money should be given to firms that do use them as a way of employing staff as virtual slaves without any employment rights

  13. So glad I got out when I did, they were corrupt from the beginning, promising full time jobs to 5 people who completed the art works course, then at the end of the course it transpired only 2 jobs and you had to live in a certain postcode! Then just gave everyone else zero hour contracts although none of this was ever made clear during the course, gallery assistants did the most work for the least money yet now they have served their purpose and made Turner look good for employing locals (zero hour contracts!) they now get rid of them like they mean nothing right at Christmas and during a pandemic!

  14. While being a regular at the gallery, and a fan of contemporary art, I agree that it seems unfair to give a grant to Turner Contemporary when they are not using it to support their staff through the current economic crisis. I am always impressed with the staff in the gallery, who are clearly there for their love of art. For a place that prides itself on the regeneration they create in the community, there must be a lot of staff who think this sounds very hollow. I would ask that the people earning top money try walking in the shoes of their minimum wage workers for a bit. And why has an art gallery employed someone from the Science Museum? What does Mr Parkin know about running a gallery except to throw staff onto the street for Christmas and have no words of sympathy or remorse when interviewed? The place will be a lot poorer for losing knowledgable staff who could teach Mr Parkin a thing or two about art and kindness. .

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