Funding cut forces Commonwealth Institute revamp

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The Commonwealth Institute yesterday unveiled plans to transform its 1960s exhibition centre in London and to increase visitors' charges in a programme to survive the end of funding from the Foreign Office, writes Michael Sheridan.

Since its opening in 1962, the Institute has stood on Kensington High Street, West London, as a landmark of its time, loathed or admired according to one's architectural taste. Constructed of materials including Nigerian timber for the floors and Zambian copper for the roof, it was set up as a permanent educational and cultural centre displaying the changing relationship between Britain and its former colonies. The building was awarded a Grade II listing in 1988.

Public spending cuts mean that the Foreign Office will end its annual grant of pounds 2.7m to the Institute in 1996, reducing the subvention to pounds 1m a year until 1999, when funding will end.

"Our aim is that by 1999 the Institute will be self-financing," Stephen Cox, the director general, said yesterday. He said the Institute was seeking pounds 3.8m in capital investment to create a new set of exhibitions, to renew its education programme and to set up an inter-active multi-media database. Most of the money is to come from member governments of the Commonwealth and from private sponsorship.

Mr Cox said the Institute was already increasing revenues from conference business and had started to charge schools for educational materials previously offered free.

When the new exhibitions were complete, the Institute hoped to attract 1 million visitors a year and to take its place among the major museums of the capital. But Mr Cox conceded that admission charges would probably rise from the present pounds 1 to pounds 5 for adults and pounds 3 for children.