Council unveils plans to sell off civic offices to replace Wyvern replacement - which will also house town's art collection

By Ben Fitzgerald - 13 March 2019

CommunityPoliticsArts and CultureHeritage

Swindon Borough Council has unveiled plans to sell off the civic offices in Euclid Street - to fund a rebuild of the ageing Wyvern Theatre to create a home for Swindon's unique collection of 20th century art.

The move follows the failure of a £12 million heritage lottery fund bid to create a purpose-built £22.5 million gallery for the town.
 
At this month’s cabinet meeting, councillors will be asked to approve a plan to carry out alteration work to the ageing Wyvern Theatre which is due to reach the end of its projected life in 2027.
 
This rebuild could be partly funded by selling the council’s civic Euclid Street offices.
 
Cabinet members will also be asked to commit to a new pledge: Every child will be encouraged to visit the council’s museums including the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery as a learning opportunity while they are at school.
 
Under the proposal, items from the art collection will tour Swindon’s heritage and civic buildings.
 
The Local Enterprise Partnership has already agreed a sum of £250,000 to enable the council to complete a detailed redevelopment plan over the next year.
 
If approved, the Wyvern Theatre will be replaced with a larger theatre - including a permanent community and civic facility with a new museum and art gallery.
 
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “I believe art should be seen and Swindon has one of the best modern art collections in the country, yet most of it is in storage.
 
“I am therefore proposing an ambitious and realistic plan that councillors agree in principle to sell or redevelop the Civic Offices to help pay for a rebuild of the ageing Wyvern Theatre.
 
“This new larger theatre would attract higher profile events and performers and include sufficient space to be a permanent home for our art collections and artefacts that will be financially sustainable. Imagine a single foyer: turn left for theatre, turn right for museum and art gallery.
 
“By taking a fresh look at what is best for our collections and artefacts, for local residents, for staff and for the Council, I believe this new approach is one that all local residents and politicians can enthusiastically get behind.
 
“This will take time to implement, so a series of pop-up exhibitions will be organised to showcase our art collections in civic and heritage buildings like the Central Library, Steam and the Carriage Works.”
 
The collections are currently located at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery on Bath Road in Old Town. 
 
The building suffers from an inflexible layout and the rooms have limited access. It also requires high maintenance costs and limits school visiting opportunities.
 
In the last year, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery attracted only 14,000 visitors compared with around 90,000 at Steam. It costs the council £200,000 a year and the number of average visitors a day is 55, with only one exhibition in the last four years seeing daily visitor numbers exceed 70.

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