Costs 'may shut Williton Bakelite Museum'

A Somerset museum could close after a fire report showed about £30,000 worth of work needs to be done.

The Bakelite Museum, in Williton, has been given six months to carry out the health and safety changes by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service.

One issue is an exit hatch, said to be too small for today's larger bodies.

The attraction is housed in an 18th Century Grade II-listed watermill and owner Patrick Cook said there was no money to carry out the work.

Mr Cook is working with the fire service to come up with a solution for the museum which is dedicated to the world's first synthetic plastic.

He said: "Officers came around a few months ago and initially looked at radios, for instance, and suggested that they ought to be PAT [Portable Appliance Tested], and they didn't seem too happy with the wonky floors of the mill or the objects on display that might be knocked over.

"As they worked their way through the labyrinth of the building, they said that the actual [exit] hatch was no longer suitable.

"It's been there 40 years and the mill itself has been there for 250 years and now it transpires that people have got so much larger the possibility of people getting out is going to be an issue.

"People have to decide for themselves whether they can go up the stairs and look around the rest of the museum and that has operated very well for 18 years."

Mr Cook said: "I want all my customers to enjoy it and be safe. We've got to work out a compromise. The suggestion of monitoring everyone doesn't seem logical."

A fire service spokeswoman said: "We have been working with the owner of the private collection exhibited in the Bakelite Museum to find a workable solution for the listed property, whilst ensuring it conforms to the fire safety requirements laid out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

"Wherever possible we work with local businesses and organisations as we are aware of the impact that regulation can have on the economic growth and prosperity of an area, however, our overriding priority is the safety of the public and workforce in buildings that they have access to."

She said: "We will always consider alternative solutions that are suggested."

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