3rd July 2021

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closure

As if all the bru ha ha surrounding the Oasis leisure centre were not enough and in a week when SBC announce their intention of launching a city status bid, they also announce closure of the museum and art gallery in Swindon’s Old Town.

Quite how one might have a city in possession of an art collection of national importance yet nowhere to see it is a mystery to me. But then so much of what SBC does is a mystery to me. This is the unfunniest of jokes.

As a good friend said:

‘8 Years of limiting access to the collection except via outreach projects seems inadequate & reputationally damaging for a growing town seeking city status. I am reminded of the importance of the arts to so many throughout the ages, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill & his statement of the importance of investing in the arts for the good of the nation.His sister repeatedly stated the importance of the arts for his wellbeing too, especially in helping him to deal with the ‘ black dog ‘ of depression and how painting & access to the arts enabled him to ‘ keep going‘ when times were tougher than ever.’

The CMDB

The Cabinet Member Decision Notice from 29th June 2021 does not make for an edifying read. So much is wrong with this whole thing I don’t where to start. Luckily for me, I don’t have to. Here’s some initial thoughts on the matter from one of the Friends of the museum and art gallery on the matter and I’m repeating them here. Edited only for the purposes of all the SEO stuff.

Aspley House home of Swindon museum and art gallery - Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closure
Aspley House

Extracts from the cultural quarter prospectus

Here’s some extracts from Swindon’s cultural quarter investment prospectus.

SCQ_Investment Prospectus_210325_LR – emailed to the Friends of the museum and art gallery on 18th June 2021:


Page 44 – Celebrating Swindon’s heritage collections

‘The town’s Art Collection is a superb, international quality celebration of painting and studio ceramics. Much of it among the very best work of British artists at work in the mid-twentieth century. The collection is loved and cherished but deserves for more people to see it. And for the collection to be form a visitor destination in its own right.

To achieve this, the cultural quarter will feature a new and dramatic pavilion at the heart of the new public park in the Kimmerfields development. A permanent home for the display of the collection and its appreciation through permanent and changing displays of art and ceramics. All in a landmark ‘jewel-box’ of a building. And that set in a public realm that will itself be a place for public art and for outdoor and informal performance’.

‘The town’s museum collections tell important stories about how Swindon came to be. And about the lives of its communities down the centuries. For new communities, and for young people growing up in Swindon, the museum collection is important in defining what it means to be a ‘Swindonian.’

AND THIS PROPOSAL WILL DENY A WHOLE GENERATION OF SWINDON’S YOUNG THAT VERY THING.

To ensure the widest possible access to, and enjoyment of these collections and stories, the quarter will extend to an imaginative project to consider their redisplay at the Town Hall. From which Swindon Dance will move to the new Dance Centre, linked with the town’s Central Library, at the Regent Circus southern end of the quarter’

Page 59 – The route to realisation and Page 60 Organising the delivery plan

‘This programme is indicative at this stage’

Timeline for new Art Gallery at Kimmerfields

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closure - screen shot from a report

If the Museum is going to move to the old Town Hall, following building of the new dance centre, these indicative timelines would apply:

screen shot of text from a report

So no museum and art gallery for around a decade?! Assuming that the cultural quarter (God I loathe that term – everything’s a quarter. Shudder) ever happens.

As much as it might be a nice thing I suspect it’s about as real as fairies at the bottom of the garden and the lost city of Atlantis. Not that I’m cynical.

Just … NO! This is simply absurd! It’s a disaster – in no small part because the museum and it’s contents feature in Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings!

Thoughts on the closure of Apsley House

Many points to ponder and ask here!

1. How can Swindon apply for city status when it’s considering shutting down the Museum and Art Gallery for several years? 

2. Are there covenants on the collections, which mean that they have to be made available for the residents of Swindon?

3. If Apsley House must remain closed then then the council must find a new permanent location. At once and within Swindon Town Centre for the display of parts of the SMAG Collections until the new facilities are opened. 

4. The proposals for the new cultural quarter should include detailed arrangements for the storage, care and security of all the SMAG collections. All with an undertaking that no items are disposed of in any way.

5. The proposals for the new cultural quarter should include provision for specifically dedicated staff to be in charge of the SMAG collections throughout the whole of the transition period.

Apsley House and adjoining Gallery extension

How did SBC acquire the house?

Are there any covenants on its use?

If Apsley House is sold is there any way of ensuring that the proceeds go towards maintaining the SMAG collections?

Have SBC submitted an expression of interest in the Museum Estate and Development Fund? Through that grants of £50k to £5m are available? If not – why not?

A package

  • The house and Gallery extension might be difficult to sell together. Apsley House has Grade II listing.
  • The upper floors of Apsley House are not accessible at present for all visitors because of the short stair flights. But the ground floor rooms are accessible. And the Gallery is accessible via the existing lift.  Is there any room for the addition of toilets on the ground floor or at the gallery level? 
  • Is it possible to keep the gallery as a separate building with provision of accessible toilet and staff accommodation?

And below a link to further comments from Cllr Jane Milner Barry


WHAT YOU CAN DO:

If people are so moved here are some useful email addreses:

Robert Buckland: robert.buckland.mp@parliament.uk
Cllr Renard: DRenard@swindon.gov.uk
SBC CEO: ceoffice@swindon.gov.uk
Editor of the Swindon Advertiser: pete.gavan@wiltshire.newsquest.co.uk