Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is safe

Swindon Borough Council has confirmed that no decision has been taken to close Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Published: Monday, 5th July 2021


Earlier this year, the Council announced a bold vision to deliver a Cultural Quarter by 2030 between the railway station and Zurich’s new offices. The vision for the Cultural Quarter was developed by the Council in partnership with key Swindon cultural organisations and their users and includes plans for a new Art Pavilion, theatre, dance studio and media and arts production centre.

The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery currently has its home at Apsley House, located on the corner of Bath Road and Victoria Road. It is an 1840s listed house which was converted into a museum and art gallery in the 1930s with an annexe later added in the 1930s. It has been recognised for decades as not being fit for purpose, providing a poor visitor experience.

The facility has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic in March last year, with social distancing impossible because of the lack of space and a significant amount of investment is also required to bring the building up to an appropriate standard.

Apsley House has seven floors and a rigid and compartmentalised internal structure, which cannot be flexibly adapted for events. There is limited capacity to improve displays, limited physical space for commercial opportunities to help offset the costs of running a gallery and museum as well as high maintenance and security costs.

The building has almost no disabled access to key rooms, which would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to rectify, and the working conditions for the staff who work there are poor.

Apsley House has deteriorated significantly in recent years and is no longer regarded as being suitable to house Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s collections as major building work needs to be carried out.

This includes significant upgrades to the roof to address a number of leaks, central heating repairs, including the installation of two new boilers, significant building rectification due to damp arising from leaks, a complete redecoration of affected areas, and a new fire alarm system would also need to be installed. These costs are significant and even then, the building would still have access and service provision limitations.

In an effort to take Swindon’s nationally renowned art collection to a larger audience, the Council launched Art on Tour in January last year. This has resulted in a number of successful exhibitions at council-owned buildings. Work is also ongoing with local businesses and learning and community venues to install artworks from the Swindon collection within their buildings, making it easier for the public to enjoy the art collection.

A new concept known as ‘Museum Without Walls’ is being developed to take the Borough’s heritage collections into community venues for pop-up exhibitions with related family activities.

Museum curatorial and learning staff are also exploring displaying Swindon’s collections at the Central Library in Regent Circus, the Old Town Hall and the Carriage Works.

The Council has committed to maintaining the current museum and art gallery staffing budget.

Cllr Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Culture, Heritage and Leisure, said: “I am determined to see our nationally important art collection shared with the widest possible audience, and for a new Art Gallery and Museum to be delivered that Swindon can be proud of.

“Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is an essential service, and the provision and collections have never been under threat – that is something I would never agree to.

“A persuasive case was made by the professional officers running Swindon Museum and Art Gallery that Apsley House is not fit for purpose and for years barely attracted 30 visitors a day before COVID hit, so focusing efforts on a new purpose-built facility is in the best interests of the art collection and museum artefacts.

“I have asked officers to prepare a full Cabinet report on the future of Apsley House, and the potential to relocate the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to a new home.

“I can be clear. The future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in our town is safe, and there is a long-term costed plan. Art is currently, and will remain, on display around the town.”

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