Become a Friend of the Swindon Museumand Art Gallery

For only £15 a year, you can become a Friend and receive links to our Zoom talks. To become a Friend or find out more about us, go to the website We're currently hoping to encourage the council to reopen Apsley House. Please sign the petition:

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Art on Tour Exhibitions and Talks

Art on Tour is hosting three exhibitions, the first of which is at STEAM, and opened yesterday. Please have a look at the Swindon Borough Council website for details. I tried copying and pasting the information, but it's too wide for the page!

 The first exhibition, 'The Art of Industry' is at Steam Museum, it opened yesterday, and features work by Ken White and other artists. It celebrates Swindon's railway and industrial heritage. 

I am grateful to Barbara Swann for these photos of the exhibition:

There's also a free lunchtime talks programme which can be found here. Note they do need to be booked in advance of the talk. Hope to see you at a talk!

Grant Aston Talk

 In 2015, Grant Aston came to celebrate the entry of his ceramic piece: 'Radioactivitat' into the Swindon Collection, an evening written about here. The Contemporary Arts Society presented the piece through the Omega Fund, if you can click on the link to CAS, they see the piece as a linking between the ceramics collection and the modern art collection. It's very interesting to read what Grant wrote about 'Radioactivitat' and the inspiration for it going back as far as 1975 and the German electro music group, Kraftwerk who wrote a song of that name. At that evening, in 2015, I asked Grant if he would give the Friends a talk, he readily agreed, and gave me his card which I kept. Before the advent of Zoom talks, it was more difficult asking people to travel to give a talk, but now it's much easier, so after 6 years, we had a long awaited evening with Grant Aston to find out what he's done recently.

Grant was born in Stoke on Trent famous for its potteries, the website claims it's the world capital of ceramics. This certainly may have played a part in Grant's decision to take a BA at Cardiff in 1990-2002, and go onto do an MA in 2003 at RCA, this was followed by woodwork and gilding in his Camberwell studio. There was often a mix of paid work and following his own practice, which led him to create work made out of clay in girder shaped pieces, balancing structural and aesthetic elements. It needs a strong foundation to support itself because the clay is a weak material
The piece above, Radioactivitat is the piece we have in the Swindon Collection, the effects of radioactivity on the body is exemplified by this piece. 
Grant went on to produce more pieces in the same vein, their size being limited somewhat by the size of his kiln and the floppy state of the clay used to build them. It must be quite a feat to make them stand up. Polygonal seen above echoes the buildings along the South Bank
The Midland Grand was inspired by a station, maybe St Pancras?
I find these shapes fascinating, so photographed lots of them, sometimes the clay was gilded, using Dutch gold leaf with antiquing fluid.
From these shapes, Grant began incorporating wood, particularly furniture legs into his pieces. Sculptural and artistic practices merging.
I have included a few of these pieces
He joined the Haptic/Tacit Collective around 2015 and has had various exhibitions with the group.
He's now moving to a new area of work, breaking out of brown furniture into something surreal. 
Mind state is an example of one his his newer pieces, He will be exhibiting in Norfolk in March this year, and we wish him every success in his work, and look forward to the next British Ceramics Biennial in 2023 which I hope we can visit.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Update on the Future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 The latest Cabinet report was published on 24 November, ahead of the Cabinet meeting on 1 December. It was a following on from the report presented at Cabinet on 8 September which suggested that the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery collections be moved to the first floor of the Civic Offices and Apsley House, the current home of SM&AG be declared 'not fit for purpose', emptied and sold as 'surplus to requirements'. 

In the latest report, costings of £150,000* were to be spent on making the whole of the first floor of the Civic Offices ready to display the collections, with a further £250,000 set aside for the lift, roof repairs and contingency. This was in contrast to the report from March 2019 when using the Civic Offices was deemed the expensive option at £1.86 million as opposed to the £400,000 it would cost to improve Apsley House until an alternative solution was found.

The two contrasting reports are here: 

Link to March 2019 Cabinet paper, it's item 72

 link to 1.12.21 Cabinet paper, it's item 54

 Members of Save our Museum and Gallery group went to both the Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings. Here we are outside the Civic Offices ahead of Cabinet:

Photos courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser who have done a brilliant job of reporting at these events
We have asked many questions, some of them are listed below, with number 1 question at the beginning:

The question about the difference between the £1,860,000 refurb of the Civic Offices and what we’d get for £150,000 was answered by Richard Bell who said the original 2019 proposal would have involved knocking down walls and remodelling for the permanent solution to SM&AG, this version is scaled down and will involve much more basic accommodation for a medium term solution of approximately 10 years.

David Renard reiterated that development of the Kimmerfields site is well under way with the new Zurich building, and a start has been made on the bus boulevard. Looking at the council’s website, it says spring 2022 is when work will start on the BB.

In answer to environmental controls, we were assured all of the rooms used in the Civic Offices will have these, in contrast to AH where there was one in the basement and another in the art gallery.

It will apparently take 12-16 weeks to get necessary change of use consents for the Civic Offices.

Money is still being saved by moving to the CO because they are already being heated, keeping AH closed saves on energy costs. There are people working in there apparently. Unsure if  we got an answer to the question about whether AH is being refurbished at all for sale?

Most of the money at the CO is being spent on the lift, with a contingency of £45k, they are hoping to rationalise their stores and keep some items not being displayed at the CO.

Carole Bent in outlining the role of Scrutiny, highlighted that councillors sitting on the Scrutiny committee had it in their remit to vote to send the decision back to Cabinet, and Carole requested that they did so as there remained much uncertainty around the plans and costings. This didn't happen, the plans were voted through by a majority.

David Renard either hasn’t read the plans for the cultural quarter or would rather keep this quiet, but he talks about the ‘museum and art gallery in the cq’ whereas we know current proposals appear to be to have an art pavilion in the cq costing between £6.9m to £1m and the museum in a converted town hall.

This section of the scrutiny meeting ended with councillors being reminded that they weren’t voting on the figures suggested in the report, but the process of the cabinet meeting. David Renard was reminded to inform members of scrutiny  about this before they called it in..

Richard Bell couldn't give a market value for Apsley House. I thought it was odd that he couldn't state even an approximate figure off the cuff. He couldn’t say whether it would be sold with the gallery and shops or not. He has referred us to the council's property department.

The collection is being stored at 'various places', apparently, but SBC wasn't prepared to divulge where for security reasons

SBC is hoping to show about 1/3 more of the collection at the Civic Offices than could be displayed at Apsley House.

I asked a question about the proposal from Central South Swindon Parish Council to take over the running of SM&AG, that avenue is not being pursued at the moment.

Another question about an arts and museum curator to replace Sophie Cummings has not been asked.

*Breakdown of costs to Civic Offices was provided to give more idea of where the money will be spent, and appears below in italics. Room plans have not been provided, so we don't know where work will start, or where the art gallery will be.

Officers have worked on costings to enable the occupation of the Civic Offices for a temporary home for the Museum and Art Gallery with the objective that the facility should be at least commensurate with the conditions at Apsley House. In many respects it will be much better.

The costings have been worked up as broad estimates, which of course can only be tested by the market when any tenders are placed. This is the same for any project. They are comparable with the costings estimated for provision at Lydiard when we were looking to temporarily relocate there.

The costings have been assessed by the Council’s Buildings Maintenance Team who have significant experience of maintaining our assets and a Heritage buildings specialist. The conditions for all aspects of display have been informed by our Museum Manager and most experienced Curator. Officers consider them to be reasonable for the temporary provision proposed.

The main element of the overall cost is likely to be a replacement lift, which at the moment provides the greatest level of uncertainty as a range of solutions have been considered. It is estimated that the most likely solution would cost c.£200,000 with minor roof maintenance and contingency bringing this element up to £250,000. As this work would be required however the upper floors of the building were to be occupied, it is provided for through general maintenance as is required regardless of the Museum and Art Gallery.

Planning permission will be needed for a change of use of the building to a Museum and Art Gallery and listed building consent for works including a new/replacement or refurbished lift.”

Breakdown of estimated capital works costs


Works/ Task

Estimated Cost

Solar Floor to Windows


Mounting Boards


Making Good & Redecorations


Carpeting/ Acoustic Insulation (West End)


Additional Fire Precautions/ Security/ Access Controls


Small Power




Museum Fixtures & Fittings




Two Swindon Advertiser articles about the relocation plans:


Saturday, 27 November 2021

SOMAG out in the Town Centre Again Today

 Despite the freezing temperatures and a brief blizzard, the SOMAG, Save Our Museum and Gallery, group were out again today with Superman and the Croc reminding people about the fate of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Here we are in Regent Street with the banner, and the croc handing out leaflets
Above Superman with the megaphone sharing the information and encouraging people to take a leaflet
Below a posed photo
and below a nifty way of carrying one of our crocs, fastened on with a bungee cord
And a last photo of Superman
Thank you to all of you who offered words of encouragement, and those who took a leaflet.

Latest Cabinet Paper for 1 December

 The next Cabinet meeting is being held next Wednesday 1 December at 6pm at the Civic Offices, we are hoping to have a gathering outside beforehand from about 5.30pm. This is a link to the latest Cabinet paper, if you go down to item 10 and click on that, you will see the latest proposals for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to be located in the whole of the top floor of the Civic Offices, where an estimated cost of the relocation is £400k, compared to £1.86 million in the Cabinet document produced in March 2019, click on the link and go down to item 72 to have a look

The SOMAG group released this statement:

Members of Save our Museum and Art Gallery (SoMAG) are bewildered by the paper going to Cabinet on 1 December.

“The figures just don’t add up,” said a SoMAG spokesperson.

“We have always said we will support the conversion of the first floor of the Civic Offices to a museum and art gallery, as long as it is being properly funded to provide appropriate gallery and exhibition space. The collections, which we Swindon residents collectively own, include internationally significant art, objects and artefacts which need  appropriate conditions and engaging interpretation and displays. SBC still have no budget allocated beyond making the space available, and their plans amount to no more than accessible storage.

“In March 2019 Cabinet were presented with five options for SMAG, and the most expensive one at £1,864,000 was the conversion of PART of the first floor of the Civic Offices. Cabinet rejected that option. But this new paper estimates that it will now magically cost £150,000 to convert THE ENTIRE first floor to a museum/gallery space, and an additional £250,000 to improve the lift so it’s suitable for carrying people, rather than just goods. So the cost of converting a larger space has fallen by £1,464,000 in the past two and a half years, yet there is no explanation of how that could be possible or how this new “estimate” had been arrived at.

“The option that Cabinet actually accepted in 2019 was to do some work on Apsley House (also including ensuring it has a working lift).  Those costs were estimated to be £400,000. This paper’s  current estimate for necessary reparations etc is now £450,000. So while the costs of converting the Civic Offices have plummeted, the cost of converting Apsley House has increased considerably. We can’t reach any other conclusion than that numbers are being plucked out of the air to suit a particular argument, rather than reaching an evidence-based decision.

“Finally, something else doesn’t add up financially. This report says Swindon South Parish Council can’t be allowed to run Apsley House until the new Cultural Quarter can be built, because Swindon Borough Council needs to sell Apsley House quickly and put the funds towards the Cultural Quarter. In fact the parish council has proposed leasing Apsley House from SBC and returning it when the council is in a position to commission construction of the new museum/gallery.

“So to sell Apsley House in the near future, when the Cultural Quarter is years or decades away – and remember, there is no funding in place for this aspirational project yet – seems indefensible. Property values tend to rise far faster than cash in the bank over the longer term, so the real value of the sale will almost inevitably fall, the sooner SBC disposes of it. It just doesn’t add up.”

Save our Museum and Art Gallery group, and on behalf of the 5,000+ signatories to the petition to

reopen Apsley House

26 November 2021

There have been a couple of Swindon Advertiser articles: