EXCLUSIVE: Rugby's Hall of Fame likely to shut after council holds behind-closed-doors meeting

When the attraction opened in 2016 it was hoped there would be a big tourism boost to the town - but things began to unravel

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 2:55 pm
The Hall of Fame, file image.

Rugby's Hall of Fame is likely to be shut and stripped of its exhibits shortly, the Advertiser can exclusively reveal.

When the rugby attraction first opened on the first floor at the town’s art gallery, museum and library in 2016 it was hoped it would act as a magnet for lovers of the game across the world.

But it has been haunted by concerns over how much it was costing taxpayers - and now the Advertiser has learned that councillors are likely to agree to have the attraction shut for good.

A secret report prepared by Rugby council officers was recently compiled - with the suggestion being that it would not be viable for Rugby council to renew its contract with World Rugby.

And when the council's cabinet met on March 1 they used a clause in the Local Government Act to exclude the public and the press as they considered whether to act on the report.

The Advertiser learned that the cabinet came to an agreement very quickly, with virtually no opposition to the plan.

And in the full council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 16, all councillors will discuss the report while, as before, the public and press are excluded from that section of the meeting.

The Advertiser understands that the plan to shut the Hall of Fame is extremely likely to be agreed to in the meeting - with very few councillors opposing it.

It is not clear what will happen to the first floor of the building once the attraction is shut down, but the other services including the library, will not be affected.

The decision of World Rugby to select the town to open its Hall of Fame in 2016 was hailed as a great day for Rugby - with hopes that it would give our town a huge tourism boost.

Rugby councillors voted unanimously to approve the deal with World Rugby, and the opening day in November 2016 was attended by big names in the sport.

The attraction had been free to enter, but in February 2017 councillors voted to begin charging admission fees - a move predicted to generate £120,000 a year.

Things began to sour a year later in 2018 when an anonymous letter, featured in national magazine Private Eye's Rotten Borough's section, branded the attraction the 'Hall of Shame' and accused Rugby council of excessive spending and a lack of planning.

The author claimed that the attraction was forecast to generate £500,000 a year for the council - stating that in a previous meeting the then leader of the council Cllr Michael Stokes said income from ticket sales so far totaled £15,000.

They went on to write: "With no business plan, excessive spending and no basis for any income projections, it looks like the RBC went into this financial agreement blindly hoping it would be a magic money tree.

"How long before it's kicked into touch?"

At the time Rugby council rebutted the claims, with a spokesperson arguing that income figures were based on a misunderstanding, adding that they had never predicted £500,000-a-year takings.

In that same month, the Advertiser revealed that the Hall of Fame had secured a £600,000 sponsorship deal with luxury Swiss watchmaker Tudor - offering some hope to those concerned for the finances of the attraction.

In October 2018 the Advertiser reported that the Hall of Fame had cost Rugby council £194,000 more than was expected for that financial year.

But Cllr Michael Stokes, who was leading the council at that time, said councillors knew the attraction would be a net cost to the council, it is not a commercial project and it brings value to the town.

Rugby Borough Council has been contacted for comment.