27th October 2021

SoMAG Urge SBC to Join the Queue
The group formed to secure the re-opening of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is urging Swindon Borough Council to be first in the queue for the Chancellor’s budget promise of £850m for museums.

Save our Museum and Art Gallery (SoMAG) says the council has turned down opportunities to bid for museums funding as recently as this year. This despite claiming that the Grade II listed Apsley House is in dire need of substantial repairs and renovations.

Earlier this year, SoMAG learned that the council declined to put in an expression of interest to the national Museum Estates and Development (MEND) fund. It was inviting grant applications from museums ranging from £50,000 to £5m. These grants are non-repayable, so no debt would have incurred.

SoMAG said

‘The MEND fund is a literal gift to any cash-strapped council. Thus it stunned us when we learned that Swindon Borough Council decided not to apply for funding for Apsley House. An officer told us that, despite MEND’s being a ‘good fund’, the time wasn’t right for Swindon.

That’s an opportunity lost now. But, as luck would have it, it looks as if the council may have a second chance. £850m is being allocated to ‘breathe life’ back into museums around the country.

The council’s current plan is to patch up Apsley House. Then sell it off to the highest bidder and keep the cash for the unknown number of years it will take for the building of the planned cultural quarter in the centre of town. It seems that cash will play a crucial part in financing any new museum and art pavilion. You don’t have to be an accountant to see that, with inflation running at around four per cent, and interest rates at an all-time low, that sum will diminish in real value over a decade or two.

‘The Chancellor says over 100 regional museums and libraries will undergo renovation and restoration. We implore SBC to bid for a share of the £850m, to make sure that Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is one of those 100+ museums. And further to start putting in applications for the other funding streams that often come available. Then SBC can ‘breathe life’ into Apsley House, instead of flogging it off to heaven knows who.

SoMAG Urge SBC to Join the Queue - Aspley House home of Swindon museum and art gallery - Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closure
Aspley House home of Swindon museum and art gallery – Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closure

An offer from South Swindon Parish Council

South Swindon Parish Council has approached the council with an offer to take over running the museum and art gallery at Apsley House. And to act as its guardian until the coming of the cultural quarter. Thus the council can be free from having to look after it.

Once the new museum and art pavilion get built, the parish council will hand Apsley House back to SBC. They can then sell it should they still wish. Given the historic trend for property to increase over the long term, that’s going to be far more lucrative for Swindon’s tax payers than getting rid of it now.

To be blunt: this is a choice between keeping our fantastic art collection and museum artefacts in one venue until they have a permanent new home. Or putting a treasured Swindon building into private hands and risking it joins the ranks of the Corn Exchange, Mechanics’ Institute and Oasis.

We hope that Swindon Borough Council does the right thing by the people of Swindon.

For related posts go here: https://swindonian.me/category/museum-and-art-gallery/

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