One of Swindon’s historic gems is about to get a boost after being told it is to receive a £30,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The Richard Jefferies Museum, home of local Victorian writer and naturalist, has been given the grant to help develop a dedicated Trust and breathe new life into this important local landmark.
Working with the Richard Jefferies Society and Swindon Borough Council, a plan has emerged to run the Museum as a community asset, with professional help from local arts and heritage developer, Dr Mike Pringle, pictured below.
Mike, who made the application to the HLF, said: "This museum really is one of the hidden treasures of Swindon’s heritage, as is Richard Jefferies himself. It’s just so good that, after a good few years of effort by a few dedicated people, particularly Jean Saunders, the museum now has a chance to establish an exciting future for itself, one which the people of Swindon can really share in."
John Price, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society, said: "Society members is delighted to hear of the success of the HLF bid, and looks forward to working with the Trust to make the Museum at Coate more accessible to Swindonians and visitors to the Town. It is a most important literary jewel that we have done our best to make available to all, but have been limited by time, money, and availability of volunteers to take responsibility for opening the house more regularly.”
Swindon Borough Council, which owns the Museum, is currently reviewing its own commitments to leisure and culture, but while arts and heritage facilities across the country are suffering from a reduction in available resources, this grant is evidence that new ways of doing things, involving the community, are possible. The grant also comes at a time when the Museum’s neighbours, the miniature railway and the Sun Inn at Coate, are both expanding, meaning that this corner of the country park is set to become an even more exciting and vibrant area.
The funding, from HLF’s Our Heritage scheme, will help to improve and broaden access to the Museum, sited within the house and gardens where this important author was born (Jefferies called it The Old House at Coate).
It is hoped that new volunteers will come forward to join in the project. Then, with improved educational aspects, the creation of some fresh displays, more events, and maybe even cream teas, the funding will help to turn the place into a site for local people and visitors to Swindon to enjoy, celebrate and learn about this fascinating local history.
Jefferies was one of the first writers on what we today call ecology, and he had a deep understanding of the workings of the natural environment, particularly around the Coate area. With people like BBC gardening guru Monty Don as fans, he was voted Britain’s favourite nature writer in an Observer poll, and his passion for nature and human life brings huge relevance to the development of the Museum.
If anyone is interested in joining in with the developments, or finding out more about Jefferies or the Museum, they can drop in on the second Wednesday of the month throughout the year from 10am to 4pm, or on Sundays from 2pm on 5pm between May to the end of September.
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