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Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Updates on the Conversion of the Civic Offices and Gharial

Keeping people informed about the reopening of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery on the first floor of the Civic Offices can be repetitive and progress seems slow, I need a photo of the Civic Offices, but can't find it, so will use a favourite photo of mine, taken when the Friends visited Rabley Gallery last summer and were warmly greeted by Meryl Ainslie, director of the gallery. 

Last week, on 23 March, the following responses were given in a document entitled 'Standing Order 15 Questions and Responses' the first response is about progress on the Civic Offices and if you scroll further, you can find an update on the gharial:

The next link takes you to an advertisement for contractors to submit expressions of interest in converting the first floor of the Civic Offices, work to be finished by mid September.

Building Refurbishment Works to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery – 1st Floor Building Refurbishment Wo... (

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Marking 3 years since Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Closed

 Last Friday a group of us gathered outside Apsley House to mark 3 years since Swindon Museum and Art Gallery at Apsley House closed, as it turned out, for good.

At the time, in March 2020, Covid restrictions were being enforced which meant there were lockdowns imposed on the public. By the time everything was opening up, Swindon Boarked appealed against this, but the building has remained closed, been emptied of the art and museum artefacts, and now been sold to developer, Arthur Dallimer. Meanwhile there have been plans to reopen the museum and art gallery on the first floor of the Civic Offices, but the necessary work has not started yet.

We marked the occasion last Friday with balloons, cake and lots of chatting; we were lucky to have Will Glennon form BBC Points West on hand, here's his recording:

 and Aled Thomas from the Swindon Advertiser:

and beforehand the event, Advertiser reporter, Daniel Wood, reminded people of previous gatherings:

Thank you so much to all those who came on the day, our Friends and supporters, it's not good enough that a town the size of Swindon has no museum and art gallery. Below I've added some of the photos taken on the day:

This was the beautiful cake made by one of the Friends' committee members
Prior to the event, \Jeremy Holt carrying the helium filled balloons
and above the croc on crutches after a foot operation, very pleased she could be there, also celebrating Red Nose Day

This is a good photo of the group holding posters 
Another view of people chatting
Above and below, me talking to the group, thanking them for coming and saying we were still waiting for a museum and art gallery

Our latest poster just says 'Free Our Croc'

The much loved gharial which resided on the top floor of Apsley House is known by anyone who visited the museum over the years; we have used it as a mascot since we knew the museum and art gallery were closing. The candles remind us of the 3 years since we last saw it in the museum. 
Meanwhile, Swindon fails yet again to receive funding to bolster it low cultural engagement:
Did anyone apply for the funding streams?

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Third Anniversary of Closure of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 It is now three years since Apsley House closed because of Covid restrictions, but failed to reopen when restrictions were lifted. A decision had been made by Swindon Borough Council to close the building for good, put the art and museum collections into storage until the art pavilion in the Cultural Quarter had been built. The plans for the museum collections were vague. We were not happy with this arrangement because many of us would never have seen Swindon Museum and Art Gallery reopened in our lifetime. An interim solution was suggested at Lydiard House, where it was proposed three breakfast rooms could house small exhibitions. This was followed by the idea of converting the first floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery; this seemed like an excellent idea, although previous calculations in 2019 had put a figure of over a million pounds to carry out the conversion. In 2019 it was decided Apsley House would be the best option for SM&AG, with a proposed £400k to be spent on improvements to the building. This money has not been spent, and remains available for the conversion of the first floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery. Dates for work to begin on the building slide, the latest estimate is the end of the year for the work to be complete, and the building open to the public.

We are marking the third anniversary of the closure of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery outside Apsley House at 1pm this Friday 17 March with cake. Please come along if you can, we will be there until 2pm.

Sale of Apsley House Agreed

 On Monday, Swindon Borough Council announced their preferred buyer for Apsley House, the former home of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. I think many people were relieved that the building is to be sold to Arthur Dallimer, a developer who reached out to the community to seek approval for his plans to sympathetically develop Apsley House and retain it as a business within Old Town. A link to the Swindon Advertiser article can be found here:

There are two posts on this, one from the start of the process when Arthur contacted the Friends to ask if we were in support of the plans, the link to that piece can be found here. I also wrote a letter of support which can be read here

Above is an artist's impression of the plans, including removal of the cladding over the windows of the gallery to allow light into what will become a 90 seater restaurant. This development could be completed by summer 2024 which is also good news.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Making the Museum of Making: our February talk

 We were very pleased to welcome Eilish Clohessy-Dennis, Curator of Making at Derby Museums to talk to us about the transformation of the former Silk Mill in Derby into a vibrant, popular museum which was shortlisted in 2022 for Museum of the Year. Derby also has a Museum and Art Gallery and Pickford's House, a museum in the former home of Enlightenment architect Joseph Pickford.

Eilish gave us a reminder of how long ago the silk mill, seen above, was up and running; in 1717 the mill was planned by John Lumb, adjacent to the river Derwent, it opened in 1721, making it possibly the first factory. As you can imagine, there are many depictions of the Silk Mill, here's a very old one below:

 After John Lumb's death, the Wilson family bought the mill. In 1900 the mill was sold and became a chemical producer of snowfire and fly paper. In 1910, the adjacent mill was burnt down and the Silk Mill was virtually destroyed. It was rebuilt with three floors, and became Derby industrial museum in 1974 with an emphasis on Rolls Royce and their railway heritage. By 2011, it was decided a rethink was needed and the building was temporarily shut, it was decided to run it as a trust.

Regarded as the birthplace of the factory system, when people were asked what they would like to see in the museum, things mentioned were the railway hub, Rolls Royce cars, aeroengines, St.Pancras station ironwork, Lara Croft and Toyota cars. Here's a photo of one of the boards which captures some of the ideas people in derby had about what they wanted to see in their museum:

In addition to asking people what they wanted in their museum,  workshops were held where people came and made things. As Eilish said ' Involve me and I learn' is a powerful mantra. In the slide below, you can see how people were inspired by the makers of the past, made by the makers of today and they intend to empower the makers of the future
In the museum they have 80000 objects, and wanted to involve people in the displays, so asked for help in how they should be displayed. For example displaying in groups accordiong to what they are made of
Here are some of the 1500 volunteers who processed the collections:
This is the vibrant looking exterior of the Museum of Making at dusk
Below are examples of some of the things made in Derby, you can identify most of them; there are 300 individual bricks, and of course we had at least one brick factory in Swindon. They also made Qualcast mowers
It took 2 years, including Covid before the necessary alterations had been made and they could move in. September 2021 was the proper opening with a festival of making
It must have been very exciting to be shortlisted as Arts Council Museum of the Year last year.
Derby seems like a really interesting place, well worth a visit to see all three museums.
If you would like to see the recording of the talk, it's here
Thank you once again to Eilish Clohessy-Dennis for the fabulous background to The Museum of Making in Derby.