A few days ago #BAS published a guest post from Councillor Jim Robbins concerning his visit to and reflections on #Swindon splendid STEAM Museum. Now here is his report on Lydiard Park and House another of Swindon’s gems – this one well-known though sadly so many aren’t. Like the West Swindon sculpture trail to give but one example.

Anyway it’s interesting stuff for sure, I love the titbit about Henry Bolingbroke lobbying the GWR to mute the hooter as it disturbed his shut-eye. Bless! 🙂 So read on.

As before, should you wish to communicate with Jim about his posts here’s how you can: Let me know what you think of the blog, and of STEAM and Lydiard. Feel free to comment here, or contact me on Facebook where I’m ‘Councillor Jim Robbins’ or on twitter where I’m @jimrobbins.

‘After my trip to STEAM, I drove over to Lydiard Park and House, where it was sunglasses and shirtsleeves weather. However, as they had an outdoors performance of The Tempest due to take place in the evening, showers were inevitably forecast for the afternoon and evening. I’m a regular visitor to Lydiard, mainly as a dog walker and dad, so I’m well aware of the walks and the playpark, but I’m ashamed to admit that I had never visited the House.   I had a whistle-stop tour from the lovely lady on reception, and I will certainly be going back for a longer more in-depth look at the House and Walled Garden. I knew a bit about the St John family and their history, and was aware of the Stubbs paintings (which would have been worth millions!) that had had to be sold to cover the gambling debts, but I was not aware of such treasures as the Socchi table and the amazing stained glass window in the Diana room. I also didn’t know that Henry Bolingbrooke had lobbied the GWR to mute their famous hooter as it disturbed his sleep!

 The House is a hidden gem for the town, and we need to ensure that it is recognised as the excellent attraction that it is. The House and Gardens are ranked as 5th on trip advisor (with the park’s jungle attraction rated 4th) but the vast majority of the 750,000 annual visitors only visit the park and don’t go to the house.

The Park has been greatly improved over the last 10 years with the help of a Heritage Lottery fund grant, with the lake reinstalled, the playground and visitor centre improved, and the stable reopened as a cafe and the walled garden back in use.

 Plans for the future include the need for improved car parking, which would allow the park to host much bigger events. Those who remember the on-off charade of the Big Arts Day a few years ago where the event was going to happen, then was going to be cancelled, then back on which went on in the week preceding the event was all due to the limitations of the car parking on site, and the need to additional car parking on the grass. There is also talk of having one main entrance to the Park so that the ‘visitor experience’ can be managed better.   I have to say that I’m not totally sold on this idea, as I like to be able to park by the playpark if I’m there with my daughter but prefer to nip into the Church entrance if I’m walking the dog or going there from my parents-in-laws house in Grange Park. I appreciate the flexibility of the two entrances, and feel that there is a different feel from the two entrances, and wouldn’t want to lose that.

There is talk of investigating whether there is a need for some policy to be introduced around where dogs can go off the lead, to allow parents with young children to have some areas where they are less likely to be disturbed by dogs or find their picnic is interrupted by the discovery of dog poo… As a typical non-commital politician, I’d be keen to investigate users opinions on these issues before making any big decisions!

 I was impressed to find out the success of some of the income generation schemes at the Park. The static barbecues bring in over £25k every year, and I have to say that I hugely enjoyed the experience when we hired one for a family birthday. I was also pleased to discover that the Swindon branch (pun intended!) of the Jungle Park is the busiest of all of the centres that the operator runs in the country, and the Council receive a percentage of the turnover. I have to say that I always thought that it’s pretty expensive, but it seems to be around the average price for this sort of activity and the visitor numbers are testament to the popularity of the attraction. The Jungle Park and Lydiard Park and House are also in the top 5 visitor attractions in the town, at 4 and 5 respectively.

 I think that the big challenge for the Council is to ensure that the House and Park, along with STEAM, are properly funded to ensure that they stay as popular attractions, and that any attempt to increase income at the sites is done sensitively and in keeping with the heritage of the sites. I would hate for us to throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose the great attractions that we have by trying too hard to make them pay or allowing them to die a death of a thousand cuts as we seek to save money. We need to protect out heritage and build on these real assets of the town.’


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