Fingers are crossed across the region now that the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust recently (30 November) submitted a £12 million bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for an iconic new gallery and museum for Swindon town centre.
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust has compiled nearly 800 pages of evidence to back up the argument that the current home for the town’s collections of modern British art and ceramics and artefacts is no longer fit for purpose. This is backed up by over 4,000 conversations between the Trust and residents, employees, employers, partners and even visitors to the town at events across Swindon over the past year and 5,407 postcards of support.
The final bid submission was seen off on its journey by Swindon Borough Council, before heading to the current museum and then a tour of key Swindon supporters and partners including 90 children from Drove Primary School, Twigs, the Olive Tree Café, the UK Space Agency and GWR.
With cross party support, the council has committed £5m to the project, with the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership pledging a further £1.35m. In Swindon Borough Council’s Masterplan, a new museum and art gallery was proposed for the town centre near the Wyvern theatre, unlocking the cultural quarter and transforming the surrounding area, and the town itself.
The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust has been given the responsibility to lead the bid submission and director Rod Hebden has been at the helm since April.
“A new museum and art gallery for Swindon will enable us to transform how we care for much of our museum and art collections, and how we use them to inspire people. We’ll be able to increase the opportunities for people to develop skills and get involved in their heritage through volunteering, or just simply enjoy it, whether using the museum for community events, or simply taking some time out to unwind, socialise and enjoy our town’s incredible art.
“By working with great local partners like the Science Museum and UK Space Agency, we will be telling the story of Swindon’s past, and how it continues to shape the future, we can show the world what Swindon is really about, and fill our children with pride when they tell people where they’re from.
“By going out to meet and talk to people face-to-face we received a lot of feedback that has helped shaped the submission. One of the major areas of comment was from people with physical mobility issues, and their feedback is helping the designers ensure the location of lavatories, size and quality of disabled facilities, and proximity of disabled parking facilities fully meet their needs.
“We were also approached by Twigs, the local mental health charity, who were interested in possible partnerships. That opened up great opportunities for them to take care of our rooftop gardens, and even grow produce to be served in our café.”
However, the team are acutely aware that this is a very competitive bid process and no matter how worthy, funding is not available for everyone.
“In the last round, only 4 projects out of 22 received funding, despite 11 of them being considered ‘High Priority’ – so the bare odds for any one project are tough,” says Rod.
“And the truth is that we’re in a bit of a David and Goliath situation. We’re up against projects from all over the country, including some big national museums in London. Most projects will have bigger teams and most will have more money behind them.
“But there’s one thing that the other teams won’t have, and that’s Swindon. Swindon has great people, it has a history of innovation and a track record of surprising the country. We’re a determined bunch, and we persevere, and we make change happen. And making change happen is what the HLF, and our project, are all about.”
Chair of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Robert Hiscox, said: “We believe the museum and art gallery in Swindon’s town centre will become a vibrant heart that pumps life into the whole town.
“Swindon has excellent travel facilities and is less than an hour from London. More than nine million people live within two hours and the new building will become a magnet to draw visitors to see a dramatic building filled with fascinating artistic, archaeological, scientific and educational objects. It will transform the area around it, attract new businesses and be a source of civic pride to be enjoyed by all.”
The money that the Trust is now bidding for is as a direct result of people, including Swindon residents, playing the National Lottery. Around 95 per cent of total revenue goes back to winners and society. In the year ending 31 March 2017, £1,628 million was raised for National Lottery projects, including heritage projects. But there’s always more demand for funds than there are funds available, which is why the bid process is always very competitive.
As it has done throughout the process, Swindon has played a large part in the submission process, with transport provided by Honda, Mini and GWR. Celebratory refreshments were also provided by Arkells for the returning journey to Swindon. In a fitting tribute to Swindon, the Bid team travelled on the engine named after Squadron Leader Harold Starr on the way to Exeter, returning on the engine Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
GWR spokesperson said: “Swindon is very much the spiritual home of the GWR and we are thrilled to be an integral part of the journey that will deliver the bid. The GWR network is undergoing a huge modernisation programme, the biggest investment since Brunel and Gooch, and which has already seen our new Intercity Express Trains carrying passengers from Swindon to London, Bristol and South Wales, providing more seats.”