Swindon council is reconsidering the closure of Apsley House, home of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, following pressure from local residents and heritage professionals via the Save our Museum and Art Gallery (SoMAG) campaign.
Apsley House closed in March 2020 for the Covid lockdown in line with government regulations. More than a year later Swindon council has not reopened the Grade II-listed building, citing the cost of repairs and alterations required to make the venue accessible.
The council’s proposed home for the town’s art and museum collections is an art pavilion and museum space in the planned development of a £77m cultural quarter of Swindon town centre. Stakeholders and museum and heritage bodies voiced their concern, however, that this may lead to the town’s collections being inaccessible to the public for a number of years, with work on the cultural quarter yet to begin.
Recent negotiations between the council and SoMAG have resulted in the council agreeing to consider reopening Apsley House and making its collections available to the public until a suitable alternative venue can be identified and secured.
“I’ve always been very clear that we want to reopen the museum and art gallery as soon as we can,” said councillor Robert Jandy, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for culture, heritage, leisure and town centre experience. “I have had constructive meetings with representatives of the groups who wish to keep Apsley House open. They are also incredibly passionate about wanting to see the collections we hold opened up to the public.
“We are reviewing the condition of Apsley House and the cost of improvements that are needed in light of those meetings, alongside other potential temporary options for the museum and art gallery, while we progress our fantastic plans for a new art pavilion as part of the town’s new cultural quarter. This will then form the basis of a cabinet report which will set out how we plan to share our wonderful collections with as wide an audience as possible.”
The development has been welcomed by SoMAG campaigners, who started a petition to keep collections at Apsley House when the council’s plans were first revealed and have worked closely with the council over recent weeks.
Linda Kasmaty, spokesperson for SoMAG, said in a statement: “Many of our group, including some heritage professionals and Friends of the Museum and Art Gallery, were very concerned that Swindon residents, who collectively own the art and artefacts, would not have access to the larger part of our collections for years. We made our feelings plain to the council, and we are very pleased and appreciative that Councillor Jandy has spent a lot of his time meeting with us and listening, and has now responded swiftly.
“We look forward to continuing to work with him and his officers towards getting Apsley House back open as soon as is feasible, so that as many people as possible can go back through its doors and the very popular workshops for children in the school holidays can resume. Many parents have told us that their children are missing our famous gharial – the Swindon croc – and are really looking forward to seeing her again.”
MP for South Swindon Robert Buckland added: “I have been working closely with culture cabinet member councillor Rob Jandy and SoMAG on this issue. I am glad that the council are currently considering and exploring all options about the future of our museum and I have asked to be kept fully updated, on behalf of all the local residents who have contacted me. I am a keen supporter of SoMAG and I want to see a stable and bright future for our wonderful art collection and other artefacts.”