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Museum Musings: Two-thirds of eligible national monuments to receive funding in 2020 and 2021

Walk along Beach Road in the historic Kampong Gelam district, and Hajjah Fatimah Mosque would likely catch your eye with its iconic tower that resembles the Neoclassical steeple of the first Saint Andrew’s Church. Did you know that the mosque is nicknamed the ‘Leaning Tower of Singapore’, thanks to the slight tilt of its minaret tower, and is one of few mosques named after a woman? 

Upkeeping one of the oldest mosques in Singapore, which includes preserving its façade, is a resource intensive effort. Hajjah Fatimah Mosque will be receiving funding from the National Monuments Fund (NMF) for restoration and maintenance works. Launched in 2008, NMF is a co-funding scheme administered by the National Heritage Board (NHB)’s Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM) division, and aims to assist eligible monument owners in the preservation and maintenance of their historical buildings, structures and sites.

Since its launch, the scheme has grown and evolved to better serve the changing needs of our National Monuments and their owners and occupiers. In 2015, a new category of Maintenance Fund was introduced, in response to feedback from monument owners and occupiers, to cover the regular maintenance works for monuments. The Maintenance Fund complements the Restoration Fund – the former helps monument owners carry out regular maintenance works which can assist in identifying and diagnosing issues commonly seen in aging buildings early, such as structural faults, and pre-empt subsequent restorative works, while the latter helps cover rectification works that restore the spirit of the buildings’ historic fabric.

In response to feedback from monument owners, the scope of the Maintenance Fund was further expanded over the years to include more qualifying works. These include the maintenance of vegetation, from weeds to trees, which are on or in close proximity to a monument that would pose a risk to the monument and public safety, as well as the commissioning of arborist reports. A new addition this year is necessary measures that provide basic protection of the monument from lightning or fire risk, such as fire protection systems and equipment relating to fire-safety. Such are eligible works that are aligned with the latest fire safety standards as regulated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Ms Jean Wee, Director of the PSM division, NHB, said: “The preservation of our National Monuments is an opportunity to work closely with our stakeholders where we hope to forge strong relationships as preservation can only be successful with their support. Since the grant started in 2008, we have worked closely with monument owners to better understand and address their evolving needs, especially where Singapore’s climate has impacted delicate structures. We are grateful for each and every community partnership in caring for these important landmarks, many of which continue to testify to the religious and cultural diversity of Singapore.”

For the period 2020 to 2021, a total of S$2.24 million is awarded to 20 National Monuments, or two-thirds of monuments eligible for the NMF. 65% of them are receiving support for both restoration and maintenance. For instance, Hajjah Fatimah Mosque is a recipient of the Maintenance Fund in 2020 as well as the Restoration Fund in 2021. The funds will support the minor repair of the mosque’s plaster surface as well as waterproofing works to its existing flat roofs area. Mr Abdullah Alsagoff, Mosque Manager of Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, said: “Being a historical and iconic building, Masjid Hajjah Fatimah has an appeal that attracts many people for a multitude of reasons, one of which is its unique architecture. Being close to two centuries old, it needs a lot of care. With the grants that NHB has provided for its facade and upkeep, the mosque has been able to continue being a landmark for the community even till today.”

The breakdown of NMF awards for 2020 and 2021 is as follows:

National Monuments Fund Award 2020:

Type of FundAmount (S$)No. of Monuments
Restoration Fund1.09 million4
Maintenance Fund337,00018
Total1.43 million18**All 4 recipients awarded funds under the Restoration Fund are also recipients of the Maintenance Fund.

In 2020, S$1.09 million was dedicated to restoration works while S$337,000 was dedicated to maintenance works.This year, S$702,000 will co-fund restoration works and S$104,000 will co-fund maintenance works.

National Monuments Fund Award 2021:

Type of FundAmount (S$)No. of Monuments
Restoration Fund702,0007
Maintenance Fund104,00011
Total806,00013**Some are recipients of both funds

A first-time recipient of the Restoration Fund in 2020 is Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, which houses one of Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temples that testifies to the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in the region. The monastery will use the funds to erect a temporary roof cover for the entrance hall Tian Wang Dian (天王殿; Hall of Heavenly Kings), and carry out further maintenance works with funds awarded under the Maintenance Fund in 2021. Mr Chuang Shaw Boon, Chairman, Restoration Committee for Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, said: “The Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery is a gazetted National Monument, and NHB through its NMF grant has provided invaluable financial assistance to the monastery’s preservation and restoration works. It signifies a collaboration that will uphold the legacy and propagate the uniquely traditional architecture of the monastery. This will provide future generations with a real and palpable experience of our rich cultural heritage and in turn instil an innate desire to serve the community.” 

Another recipient of the NMF in 2021 is Maghain Aboth Synagogue, which is a recipient of both the Restoration Fund and Maintenance Fund. The fifth-time recipient of both the Restoration and Maintenance Funds will be utilising the funds to repair or replace existing timber roof structures in the building. Mr Reuben Khafi, trustee of the synagogue, said: “Built in 1878, Maghain Aboth Synagogue is the oldest synagogue both in Singapore and Southeast Asia that has been continually used without interruption. It was gazetted as a National Monument in 1998. The Jewish Welfare Board is grateful for the continued support of the NHB in keeping our treasured synagogue in excellent working condition for the benefit of generations to come.” 

PSM50: Celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Singapore’s Preservation Journey (PSM50) runs from 13th November 2021 to 2nd January 2022 at the National Museum of Singapore. More information available here

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