The Richard Jefferies Museum Trust is one of only four heritage projects across the country to be shortlisted for the best community action project in the 2016 Historic England Angel Awards.
The awards were founded by Andrew Lloyd Webber to celebrate the efforts of people taking action to champion their local heritage, and culminate in a red carpet awards ceremony at the Palace Theatre, London, on 31st October. The museum is also eligible for an overall award which will be decided by votes from the public.
Swindon’s community-run Richard Jefferies Museum is up for the award thanks to their campaign to save the museum from threat of closure, and make it into an exciting, vibrant place for the local community.
The award information notes: “We built up a group to create a charitable Trust; overhaul the site, transforming the gardens from a weed and bramble covered jungle into a beautiful oasis with children’s nature trails, picnic areas and community vegetable plots; strip and clean the insides of the buildings; catalogue everything with recently purchased MODES system; secure solid loan agreements; design new interpretation; secure funding from Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, and numerous smaller funding sources; open a small tearoom; create workshop spaces, an office and storage space; developing new events and courses; designing new signage and printed publicity material; increase visitor/volunteer numbers ten-fold; establish strong links with other museums and, crucially, with other local groups, including schools, community centres, health centres, homes for the elderly and resident groups.
“We have laughed, cried, run around like mad things, and generally enjoyed ourselves”
The museum’s manager, volunteer Mike Pringle, said: “We can’t believe we have been chosen as one of only four community projects. It is very exciting, and such a pat-on-the-back for the dedicated team of volunteers who have slogged their guts out over recent years, following in the footsteps of the Richard Jefferies Society.
“It’s also really important for Swindon, acknowledging that we really do have a rich heritage here, that is starting to be revived. And rightly so.”
To help the judges and the public decide who will win, Historic England have visited to make a short film about the museum which will be available online soon. Showing the true spirit of community, the place was heaving as the camera rolled, with dozens of parents and small children in Lego Lounge, students from St Joseph’s college exploring Bevis’ world, and thirty volunteers from Thames Water helping out in the gardens, and, of course, the museum’s team of regular volunteers as well.
Richard Jefferies was a Victorian writer with a passion for the countryside and the richness of nature he saw around him. He was born at the farmhouse at Coate on 6th November 1848, and died at the tragically early age of 38 in 1887. He produced a huge array of literary works, including detailed accounts of his beloved countryside and its people, essays, novels, children’s books, articles for local/national press, and even post-apocalyptic fiction.
Although Jefferies explored differing literary genres, it is his conviction in the importance of nature that underlies everything he wrote. His work has been so well received that he has been compared with the great English nature writer, Gilbert White. BBC presenter Matthew Oates described Jefferies as the first and truest nature conservationist, referring to Sir David Attenborough as one of his successors. As a pioneer ecologist, as concerned about the environment as we are today,
Richard Jefferies’ writing has been a source of inspiration for many who have followed, including Arthur Ransome and Henry Williamson and, more recently, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane. The opening piece of the 2013 BBC Proms was a specially commissioned work based on Jefferies’ words. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23246871
You can vote for the museum here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/FTZPDGC