A RACE against time is on to raise the last £2.74 million needed to buy the historic Wedgwood collection of artwork, ceramics and documents - by November.
The public are being asked to support a major fund-raising campaign to save the whole collection from being broken up and sold off privately as part of a new deal with the Art Fund.
Every £1 donated by residents will be doubled by the Art Fund up to the first £500,000.
The total asking price for the collection is £15.75 and the Art Fund has already raised £13 million.
Campaigners say unless they can raise the last £2.74 million by November 30 the 10,000-piece archive, which includes Josiah Wedgwood's copy of the famous Roman Portland Vase, paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and George Stubbs and Josiah Wedgwood's notes, could be lost forever.
The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum has agreed in principle to take on responsibility for the collection, although it would remain on display at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston.
The campaign follows more than four years of legal negotiations after the Wedgwood Museum was held liable for a £134 million pension debt stemming from the collapse of the former Waterford Wedgwood Group in 2009.
The museum entered administration in 2010, and the following year the High Court ruled the collection was an asset of the organisation which could be sold to cover some of the pension deficit.
But campaigners and financial experts have so far fought off the auction threat.
Recovery specialist Begbies Traynor, administrators of the collection, secured the new deal.
Museum administrator Bob Young, a partner at recovery specialist Begbies Traynor, said: "For the past two years I have worked with local MPs, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others to ensure the Wedgwood Collection stays together.
"The focus has been very much on the rescue of the collection, with the aim of securing a successful outcome for all parties.
"Wedgwood is a really important part of Britain's heritage, and it's right that people from around the nation are able to enjoy this collection of art for generations to come.
"The creditors have been incredibly understanding and patient about the importance of the collection and I would like to urge people to get behind this very worthwhile appeal.
"Its success will be a great story for the nation, in terms of the preservation of its heritage, and also Staffordshire and the Midlands, in terms of the visitors it will drive to the region.
"It's really important that the collection remains at its spiritual home at the Barlaston site founded by Josiah Wedgwood V.
"Begbies Traynor is delighted to broker a deal which aims to save the Wedgwood Collection and keep it in North Staffordshire, while securing a fair deal for creditors."
Campaigner Alison Wedgwood, whose husband Tom is a direct descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, said: "It's been quite a stressful time for everyone who works at the museum or in the factory, for campaigners from across Staffordshire, and for the Wedgwood family.
"We're hugely grateful to the Art Fund for stepping in and to everyone who has emailed in from all over the world to support the campaign.
"It's vitally important that the collection stays at Barlaston. A lot of workers and relatives of workers have donated to the collection over the years and it has become something which ties the people of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire together.
"The feeling is now one of optimism. The fight isn't over but there is light at the end of the tunnel."
The £13 million raised includes cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Art Fund and a small number of private trusts and foundations. The £500,000 chunk of public donations will be matched pound-for-pound by a private charitable trust.
The Pension Protection Fund, which offers compensation to members of schemes run by collapsed companies, is the main creditor of the museum which is expected to be run by WWRD, the company set up when the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands were bought out of administration.
WWRD is redeveloping its Barlaston site by building new offices, manufacturing facilities, tourist attractions and a housing development.
WWRD chief financial officer Anthony Jones said: "We are excited about the discussions with the V&A that would put the collection and museum at the heart of our magnificent new visitor experience scheduled to open in Easter 2015 following the £34 million redevelopment of the Barlaston site."
Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar said: "If, with the public's help, we can raise the remaining funds the future for the Wedgwood Collection has, despite all past difficulties, never looked brighter."
HLF chief executive Carole Souter said: "We have been working closely with the Art Fund since 2011 to find a solution enabling the collection to be protected in perpetuity, so I'm delighted our board of trustees has agreed in principle to provide up to £5 million to this fund-raising campaign."
V&A chief operating officer Tim Reeve said: "Josiah Wedgwood was a true pioneer, transforming British pottery from a minor craft to a major industry through a combination of scientific experimentation, development of new ceramic materials and techniques, excellence in design and a genius for marketing and business.
"The Wedgwood collection contains not only some of the finest ceramics produced in Britain over the last 250 years but is also the most complete documentation of factory production in the country.
"It would be a tragedy for the collection to be dispersed and we sincerely hope the funds can be raised to secure it for the nation. The V&A stands ready to safeguard the collection for future.”