The Museum of Computing in Swindon sponsored by Intel and Blue Click PR, is the UK's first dedicated computer museum and it is now facing the prospect of becoming homeless after the University of Bath in Swindon withdraws from the Oakfield campus in July. According to founder Jeremy Holt, 'The Museum is very grateful to the University of Bath for providing us with a home since we opened in 2003, but owing to circumstances beyond everyone's control – it's time to move on.'
With over 2,000 hardware exhibits (85% of which are in full working order), 2,500 software items and around 1500 books, manuals, specialist magazines and sundry items, The Museum of Computing needs to find a new location in Swindon with 75m² of exhibition space (800 square feet), disabled access and 100m² of storage space (1,000 square feet). Preferably these would be adjoining premises.
The Museum www.museum-of-computing.org.uk is a jewel in the crown for Swindon which unlike other museums, costs the public nothing to run. It is a not-for-profit company run entirely by volunteers on a shoestring budget from donations. Yet remarkably, the museum has an international reputation attracting visitors from over 45 different countries. One gentleman even travelled all the way from Japan specifically to find out how it was set up and operates. The media even asks for permission to film old exhibits to support major IT industry product launches such as the Microsoft X-Box 360.
Last year Intel confirmed a sponsorship programme that has enabled improvements to displays and an education outreach program. One exhibition featured in the Times Educational Supplement and teachers and pupils are very enthusiastic on school visits. The Independent newspaper lists the Museum as one of the top 50 museums in the UK you should visit.
Exhibitions have gained global media coverage. The Museum hosted a whole episode of Click Online broadcast by BBC Worldwide to approximately 350 million viewers. CNN with 150 million visitors SKY, Google, BBC Breakfast TV, local TV and radio stations have all covered events, as have national newspapers and trade magazines.
The vast collection has been described as 'very significant' and even the National Science Museum does not possess some of its rare, specialist items. Founder and local solicitor Jeremy Holt had long held a vision for this kind of museum in Swindon, generally acknowledged as the UK's Silicon Valley in the South West. He says 'Ideally we feel the museum should remain in Swindon, partly because we have an enthusiastic and dedicated team of volunteers, without whom it could not survive'.
In 2003, Bletchley Park showcased the wartime codebreakers, the Bombe and Enigma machines before they were transported to America to go on show. The most popular exhibition was 'High Score' which covered the computer gaming industry from the very early years. It included an East German arcade machine which was incredibly rare because it is the last of three surviving machines and is the only one in working order. This attracted huge interest from websurfers via Google; – 14,500 of them in 48 hours!
'A History of Home Computers' showed the development of early machines such as Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Atari and Commodore, and Alan Sugar's famous Amstrad machines.
'Computers on the Move' showed how miniaturization made mobile computing possible and tracked the development from luggables to portables to laptops, right through to the 'smartphone' that graces executive desks & pockets today.
'Calculator' sponsored by Casio was kindly opened by Sir Clive Sinclair, one of the pioneers of the affordable pocket calculator. His limited edition, gold-plated 'Sinclair Sovereign' calculator won a Design Council award in 1977 and looks as smart as any contemporary iPod or mobile phone. It attracted international media coverage and Sir Clive Sinclair described the museum as 'fantastic and very important'.
The museum's current exhibition 'Pong to Playstation' focuses on the history of the home games console and is due to tour six other venues in the UK from April 2009.
As visitors take a trip down memory lane, frequent comments include 'I used to have one of those', or 'I always wanted one of them!'
During HRH The Duke of Kent's personal tour last year, he commented 'most interesting and exciting'. He was particularly interested in the Curta mechanical calculator, a device still in use by some people in rally motor racing circles today.
Since first reports were released that the museum needed a new home, support has been coming in thick and fast and the museums website statistics have jumped from around 1,500 per day to a massive 18,500!
Museum staff are currently looking into the viability of some of the offers of help and Swindon Council Director of economic and cultural development, Bill Cotton has stated that they will be approaching various local organisations to find alternative premises to try and keep the museum in Swindon.
The most obvious potential new homes are not available but if you would like to suggest alternative locations, or can offer transport, physical help or funding to support the relocation, please contact Curator, Simon Webb firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)7939 582544.
Simon is coordinating the next move into the unknown and there will be an awful lot of boxes to shift!