20th May 2022

SOMAG: Save our Museum and Art Gallery
SBC: Swindon borough council

SOMAG hopes for positive engagement from new Cabinet member

The SOMAG campaign group welcomes the appointment of councillor Matty Courtliff to the Cabinet. Matty is SBC’s new Cabinet member for culture, heritage, leisure and town centre experience.

A spokesperson for SOMAG said: ‘the group hopes this appointment will mark the start of proactive and positive engagement over the future of the town’s museum and art collections.

Find more posts about the museum and art gallery here: https://swindonian.me/category/museum-and-art-gallery/

A public campaign

The campaign, which began in 2021, has succeeded in forcing SBC to abandon its initial plan. That comprised leaving the collections in storage until the delivery of a promised new cultural quarter in the town centre.

Apsley House on Bath Road housed the museum and art gallery for around ninety-years. But, following the end of the pandemic restrictions, SBC announced that Apsley House wouldn’t reopen. And further, their intention to place the collections in storage.

At length, SBC proposed to use two small rooms at Lydiard House to display a small selection of the collections. Then they decided to convert part of the Civic Offices into gallery spaces.

In support – in principle but with caveats

SOMAG supports the ambition to create a temporary home for the collections at the Civic Offices. In particular as we’re not likely to see completion of the cultural quarter for many years, if not decades.

The group has asked the council repeated questions on how the current proposal can deliver professional-quality museum and art gallery displays on conversion of the building shell.

In March 2019, the council estimated it would cost £1,864,000 to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices to provide appropriate gallery space for displaying the collections. Yet, its most recent estimate is that the conversion will cost £400,000.

Despite repeated requests to SBC for an explanation of how the cost of conversion can have fallen by £1,464,000 in three years, SOMAG has had no answer.

We’re very pleased that, following our lobbying, SBC agreed to find an alternative venue for Swindon’s own Museum and Art Gallery. It’s so much better than waiting many, many years for the cultural quarter,’ said the spokesperson.

Vague plans

The plans for the Civic Offices are somewhat vague. And that’s a source of great frustration for everyone that loved the displays at Apsley House. And that includes the famous croc or gharial.

SOMAG Supports Civic Offices Conversion - The gharial in swindon museum
The gharial in swindon museum – SOMAG Supports Civic Offices Conversion

‘We urge SBC to allocate realistic timetables and budgets to the interpretation of the art and museum collections. Because these things are STILL absent.’

‘We’re also concerned that papers relating to the SBC planning application to convert the building reveal the new facility will only be open during office hours. The weekend closure seems most odd, as those are the days when families would plan to visit.

‘We’re hoping that the appointment of Cllr Courtliff will mark a change in approach. And further, SBC will now be proactive in involving and engaging the community in the development of the plans for the museum and art gallery collections.’

For more about Swindon’ favourite crocodile go here: