Swindon Council and the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust have identified a site between the Wyvern Theatre and the Magistrates Court to build a new museum and art gallery at the heart of the town centre, and Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker has been appointed director to drive the £20 million project.
In an exclusive interview with Swindon Link magazine, Hadrian explained why the town centre location is the best site, rather than converting the old GWR Carriage Works next to the railway village which was counter-argued by Daniel Rose, chair of the Swindon Mechanics’ Institution Trust.
Here Martin Parry, who produced Railway Town, a film about Swindon’s railway heritage, supports the merits of linking the museum and art gallery with the history of the town.
WHEN Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker said in his recent interview with Swindon Link there isn’t a reason for the new museum and gallery to be located in the Carriage Works, he couldn’t have got it more wrong. There are in fact a number of very compelling reasons that make it by far the better location.
The most compelling is audience. Do we want the new gallery to be just for local people? Or do we want it to reach out to the world, raising the profile of Swindon and drawing in new visitors?
If it’s just for local people, it seems it doesn’t particularly matter where its located, though of course it’s always better to put a heritage building to good use. Locals will learn about and find the gallery wherever sited; the rest of the country won’t. The great advantage of the carriage works is that it would provide endless great publicity for the gallery and the town. You can’t put a price on that.
A vast historic range of buildings (part of the world heritage site that is Brunel’s Great Western Railway), the Carriage Works is passed by millions who use the main line to reach the West Country and Wales. Day by day an endless stream of passengers look out their train window and form an impression of our town, for good or ill.
Slap-bang in the centre of the Carriage Works is a large courtyard facing the main-line, near the front of the train in the picture below. This is tailor-made for a bold and outstanding sculpture to catch everyone’s eye. Think ‘Angel of the South’.
Along with some strategic courtyard trees and benches, a fascia refurbishment and appropriate signage, you can’t overestimate what a draw this would be to everyone passing by; – and one that goes on drawing for evermore. A huge number of travellers will be intrigued and many decide to stop off and visit – if not today then soon.
Another good reason is that, visually apparent, just along from the station, the carriage works would be clearly easy to find. Visitors to a town are quickly daunted by having to find their way through strange surroundings, having to work out directions and negotiate unfamiliar streets soon deters them. I think most won’t even bother to try and find a tucked away Islington Street gallery and it would experience little more than local patronage.
Hadrian reveals his unfamiliarity with Swindon when he suggests that a Carriage Works location is more likely to shunt visitors to the Outlet Village than town. He doesn’t seem to realise the Outlet Village is the other side of that great Swindon divide – the main line.
A Carriage Works location is far more likely to see spin-off visits to the Railway Village historic sites and the town centre. In fact it would more probably have the effect of drawing Outlet visitors across to the rest of Swindon.
Then of course there are all the arguments around making the most of our current heritage buildings and putting them to good use. We really don’t deserve the World Heritage Site along the main line unless we begin to take better care of it than we do at present. It is Swindon’s face to the world.
What I fear is that Swindon Council is locked into an idea of a ‘cultural quarter’ next to the Wyvern, suggested by a planning consultant aeons ago. That idea was peculiarly blind to the huge cultural presence of a World Heritage site and the opportunity to enhance an already existing cultural quarter with an art collection of national importance.
It will be tragic if an inflexible mindset leads to us missing such a major opportunity.
Read Hadrian’s first interview with Swindon media
Read Daniel Rose’s argument for the new museum and art gallery to be located in the carriage works