Plans to open up the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery collections to a wider audience will be discussed by councillors next week.
Under the proposals, which will be presented to Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 1 Dec, the first floor of the Civic Offices in Euclid Street would be used exclusively for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, to help create additional space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, and ensure local and surrounding schools benefit from a new formal and informal learning programme.
The temporary home, which is close to the town centre and has access to parking, would be used as a medium-term solution for the museum and art gallery while plans to build a purpose-built facility as part of Swindon’s proposed Cultural Quarter come to fruition.
With more than 40 per cent extra floor space at the Civic Offices, compared to its previous home at Apsley House, the new venue would also provide improved working conditions and additional room for staff, presenting an opportunity to restart the museum and art gallery’s volunteer programme.
Swindon Borough Council say a dedicated space will be developed as a school learning and lunchroom, which could be used to host museum events focusing on the museum and art gallery’s extensive collections.
Staff would continue outreach activities across the Borough through Art on Tour in venues such as Lydiard, Steam, and Central Library. Additional opportunities will also be explored, such as Heritage Open Days and the recent Big Draw Festival, which saw activities take place across three Swindon locations aimed at encouraging more children to participate in and enjoy Swindon’s art collection.
If the Council’s Cabinet decide to proceed with using the Civic Offices as the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s interim home, work could start immediately to create extra office space for staff alongside preparations for the first displays, ready for public opening by April next year.
The second phase of work, which would start at the same time, would see the submission of Planning and Listed Building Applications for the required building works. This would include carrying out additional work to the lift to provide full access to the displays for those with limited mobility.
The third and final phase would see the rest of the Civic Offices first floor being converted for further public display and education space. This would be carried out from next September.
The work required to directly deliver the museum and art gallery at the Civic Offices is estimated to cost £160,000, while a further £250,000 which had previously been identified as part of the Council’s capital improvement programme, would also be invested in the building. Both estimates include contingency funding.
This would include long-term remedial works previously identified for the Civic Offices such as repairs to the roof and improvements to the lift, which will bring benefits after the museum and art gallery has moved to a permanent home in the Cultural Quarter.
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s former home at Apsley House has been closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic due to its constrained internal layout, which made social distancing difficult.
Since then, its condition has deteriorated and it is estimated that extensive repairs in the region of £450,000 are needed. The building also requires significant work to make it more accessible being laid out over seven different levels, while the displays cannot be enjoyed by those unable to use stairs.
Cllr Robert Jandy, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Heritage, Leisure and Town Centre Experience, said: “Our museum and art collections have been tucked away in a corner of Old Town for many years, but the deterioration of Apsley House has given us the opportunity to explore how we can display them to so many more people.
“The Civic Offices as an interim location for the museum and art gallery ticks a lot of boxes. It is close to the town centre and public transport links, it has access to parking and it provides a significant amount of additional floor space to display our collections.
“As Cabinet Member I want to see coach loads of local children having the opportunity to see at first hand some of our incredible art and museum artefacts. We simply could not do that at Apsley House and the narrow spaces and small rooms over so many floors would not only make school visits difficult in these COVID times, but it makes it extremely difficult to access if you have mobility issues.
“I hope my Cabinet colleagues will recognise the great benefits and opportunities that are available at the Civic Offices and that we can start to look forward to getting our collections back on display for the public to enjoy.”