Helen Goral is the Chairman of the Grantham Community Heritage Association.
It’s hard to believe a year has passed since the outpouring of polarising emotions following the death of Margaret Thatcher.
For myself and others involved with Grantham Museum it was a time of great change and a coming of age, as hundreds of journalists from around the world descended on the small market town in Lincolnshire that Lady Thatcher once called home.
The museum had only reopened nine months earlier by a volunteer run charity when local government cuts had forced its closure the year before, and the Thatcher related exhibits were at best disappointing.
One solitary cabinet held her famous blue handbag and matching shoes but that was where the celebration of Grantham’s most famous lady ended. When I took the role as Chairman of Grantham Museum there was a definite air of embarrassment. Grantham didn’t want to celebrate Thatcher’s heritage for fear of reprisal and worries about being branded ‘too political’, and regardless of visitor feedback which wanted to see more, it was deemed inappropriate to recognise the formative years of such a divisive politician.
I am pleased to report that the situation now is a very different one. The month before her death we launched the Margaret Thatcher Statue Project which continues to raise funds for a lasting memorial in the town. Inside the museum itself we now have a comprehensive exhibition relating to Lady Thatcher’s life from her modest upbringing to her rise to power. There is even an opportunity for visitors to watch 1970s news reels and then to take to the ballot box to record their vote as they would have done in 1979 with hindsight.
The museum’s visitor numbers have gone from strength to strength in the past year and doubters have underestimated the economic advantage that her legacy has to offer. An increase in tourist numbers has bought with it additional spending power in the town, and even for her most ardent of opponents, it is a benefit that’s hard to argue against.
This first anniversary will be marked globally with reflection, contemplation, and no doubt from some quarters with something less respectful, but the museum and I will be marking it in two ways.
Firstly we have been loaned a beautiful bronze bust of the great lady which will have pride of place during April, alongside a photographic repertoire of life in the museum this time last year. The museum will be open on the 8th April and they will be given the opportunity to reflect on the nearly 3000 comments left in the condolence books last year.
Secondly, we shall be marking the first anniversary with a new found sense of vigour with our heads held high. Gone are the days of apologising for our association with the first female and longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.
Grantham should look objectively at what the town’s association with Margaret Thatcher has to offer, and I for one look forward to 8th April 2014 as a day to celebrate one of the most admirable and personally inspiring political icons this country has ever known.