Preston’s empty National Football Museum is to be turned into a research hub to attract experts from across the globe, it can be revealed.
Trustees of the museum are looking at pumping extra cash into the archives at the Deepdale site and creating facilities to house its growing collection and to accommodate academics and researchers.
It follows a bitter move out of the Deepdale site in 2010 to a new location at Urbis in central Manchester which opened in the summer which left the facility in Preston to rot.
However, the state-of-the-art storage facility at the back of the building, which holds 90% of the items in the museum’s collection, is still regularly used by researchers and academics.
Deputy director David Pearson said any new facility would not be open to any member of the public walking in off the street but could be turned into a facility visited by hundreds.
He said: “The plans are to increase our research and storage facilities on the ground floor of the museum and make it something more accessible.
“The collection is going to grow and we want to be able to take up the offers of new items and make the most of the collection we have.
“But, we also want to make the most of the space which used to house the cafe at Deepdale to create a welcome to anyone coming in and show people there is still something going on.”
This could include having items on “open storage” to make them visible to people passing the former museum entrance and opening up its film archive for researchers to view and to sell on.
Mr Pearson insisted the museum had “always planned” to look to invest in the Deepdale site but had wanted to get the new museum at the Urbis up and running first.
Its research team spends one day a week in the archives at Preston, he added.
The top floor and second floor of the building which was occupied by the museum until two years ago remains “without any definite plans.”
Mr Pearson said: “We are talking to a range of partners about our options for that space, but we would like to see if there is ways to bring in a bit of income to assist our ambitions to enhance the research facilities.”
The museum holds a 99-year lease on the building from Preston North End signed in 2001 when it opened.
John Hughson, a director of the International Football Institute set up by the University of Central Lancashire and the museum in 2003, said he wanted to work more closely with the museum.
It could see the university shift some of its own collections, including books belonging to Sport England, into the Deepdale site.
He said: “I have also spoken to both the museum and the library about making this a learning facility both for our undergraduates and postgraduates.”
Trustee Steven Broomhead said the trustees looked at the investment in the Preston facility as “a positive development.”
But, critics of the decision to move the museum said the investment was “scant consolation” for the loss of the collection from Preston where it opened in
Ben Casey, who together with former Preston North End chairman Bryan Gray brought the museum to the city, said: “It is little more than brushing the crumbs off the table and expecting us to be grateful.
“I still think it is such a shame to see it sitting there in the state it is in.”