New funding bid goes in for Swindon’s long hoped-for town centre art gallery and museum

December 1, 2017

A £12m bid to build an iconic new art gallery and museum in Swindon town centre – and trigger development of a new cultural quarter – has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, which is leading the bid process, has compiled nearly 800 pages of evidence to back up its argument that the current Old Town home for Swindon’s renown collections of modern British art and ceramics and artefacts is no longer fit for purpose. 

The Trust has had more than 4,000 conversations with residents, businesses, employees and visitors to the town at a range of events over the past year. It has also received more than 5,400 postcards of support.

Swindon Council has committed £5m to the project with the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) pledging a further £1.35m.  

The council regards the new museum and art gallery – which would be built on a site near the Wyvern Theatre – as key to sparking development of the town’s long hoped for cultural quarter, transforming the surrounding area.

The council has included the museum and art gallery in its most recent masterplan, hoping to emulate the successful regeneration that new art institutions have helped create in places such as Hastings and Margate.

Trust director Rod Hebden said: “A new museum and art gallery for Swindon will enable us to transform how we care for much of our museum and art collections, and how we use them to inspire people. 

“We’ll be able to increase the opportunities for people to develop skills and get involved in their heritage through volunteering, or just simply enjoy it, whether using the museum for community events, or simply taking some time out to unwind, socialise and enjoy our town’s incredible art.”

He hopes the new museum and art gallery will work with organisations such as the Science Museum, which stores many of its large exhibits at Wroughton, and the UK Space Agency, which is based in Swindon.

“We will be telling the story of Swindon’s past, and how it continues to shape the future. We can show the world what Swindon is really about, and fill our children with pride when they tell people where they’re from.

“By going out to meet and talk to people face-to-face we received a lot of feedback that has helped shaped the submission. One of the major areas of comment was from people with physical mobility issues, and their feedback is helping the designers ensure the location of lavatories, size and quality of disabled facilities, and proximity of disabled parking facilities fully meet their needs.”

The Trust approached by local mental health charity Twigs, which is interested in possible partnerships.

“That opened up great opportunities for them to take care of our rooftop gardens, and even grow produce to be served in our café,” said Rod.

The team is acutely aware that the bid process is very competitive bid process and funding is not available for every project. 

​Two years ago the HLF rejected a similar £12.5m bid for the new art gallery and museum from the council despite saying Swindon’s collection of 20th century British modern art and ceramics was of ‘outstanding heritage importance’, and there was a ‘strong case’ to improve its housing and display.

One deciding factor was said to have been that the bid did not include an alternative use for the collection’s current home in Bath Road. That has been resolved in the new bid.

“In the last round, only four projects out of 22 received funding, despite 11 of them being considered ‘high priority’ – so the bare odds for any one project are tough,” said Rod.

“And the truth is that we’re in a bit of a David and Goliath situation. We’re up against projects from all over the country, including some big national museums in London. Most projects will have bigger teams and most will have more money behind them. 

“But there’s one thing that the other teams won’t have, and that’s Swindon. Swindon has great people, it has a history of innovation and a track record of surprising the country. We’re a determined bunch, and we persevere, and we make change happen. And making change happen is what the HLF, and our project, are all about.”

Trust chair Robert Hiscox – the honorary president of insurance giant Hiscox and a substantial art collector – added: “We believe the museum and art gallery will become a vibrant heart that pumps life into the whole town.

“Swindon has excellent travel facilities and is less than an hour from London. More than 9m people live within two hours and the new building will become a magnet to draw visitors to see a dramatic building filled with fascinating artistic, archaeological, scientific and educational objects. 

“It will transform the area around it, attract new businesses and be a source of civic pride to be enjoyed by all.”

The Trust expects to hear the result of its submission next spring. 

 For more information visit or Back the Bid on Facebook at

Pictured, from left: Councillor Garry Perkins, cabinet member for regeneration, Councillor Jim Grant, leader of the Labour Party, Rod Hebden, director of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Councillor Stan Pajak, leader of the Liberal Democrats, Robert Hiscox, chairman of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Paul Holmes, PCH Business Support, Linda Kasmaty, Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust trustee, Councillor David Renard, leader of the council   

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