2015 – Museum Review
Following the failure of a second lottery bid, announced in March 2015, the future of Guildford Museum seemed in doubt. (see History of Guildford Museum). n May 2015 a new Council was elected and it decided to call time on the museum. In what seemed to some an aggressively tactical move it issued an eviction notice on the Surrey Archaeological Society. The society owned half the collections on display including social history material, costume and maps. Its collections in store were mixed in with the town’s collections after nearly a century of collaboration. Eviction was not practical but it did have reserves from a legacy and it is possible the council hoped it would buy 48 Quarry Street as its base for £1 million. That also was not an option as the legacy had been invested and the profits were vital to the survival of the society. A stand off ensued and letters poured into the press attacking the council. The Councils actions were not popular even in the Council and in August it announced a review of the museum.
A review was set up to decide the future of the museum, whether keep it and if so whether to move it elsewhere. A report by Stuart Davies Associates identified that Guildford has a great heritage and many stories to tell and needed a museum. In April 2016 the Council agreed to fund a project to develop the museum. It also concluded that there were no other locations available and that the museum should stay where is was. New builds faced competition from other developers and there were no suitable buildings available. The library in North Street was considered but it is owned by Surrey County Council. The museum is currently near the castle in the most historic part of the town.
2016-2017 – Your Stories, Your Museum
A grant was also obtained to investigate what sort of museum the public wanted. Called “Your Stories, Your Museum” it consisted of a series of roadshows taken to fetes, libraries and town events. People were asked what made Guildford special, what events they remembered and what sort of museum they wanted. There was interest in the Guildford story and also in objects from daily life that people could remember from their own past.
2018 – Project Team appointed
In 2018 the Council, based on this initial work agreed to continue the project and appoint a dedicated project manager with experience in the field. Julia Holbery Associates we’re appointed in August 2018. Several other consultants were also appointed and the fist task was to define what sort of museum the Council wanted. The architects were
ZMMA who worked on Watts Gallery and had been with the museum project since before the review. They were appointed to develop a scheme to link the museum to the Castle Grounds.
Workshops were held with Councillors, heritage groups and individuals involved with local history. The council’s desire for a museum that celebrates the modern town as much as its history was support.
2020 Bid submitted and cancelled due to Covid-19
2020 Bid submitted & Covid-19
The bid was submitted in January 2020 but in March the country went into lock down due to Covid 19. The Arts Council cancelled all lottery bids and once again the lottery bid was dead in the water. Could it have succeeded? The project had risen to £18 million with £6 million coming from the Council, £9million from lottery bid and the rest from sponsors. Also there was a large staff proposed and there seemed to be no business plan around how it could be afforded. Also there was no indication that the could raise the necessary sponsorship.
Appendix – Description of the Project
NOTE: The following (written in the present tense) was written in October 2019 when the project was gearing up to submit the project to the lottery
The aim is to create a museum that enhances Guildford’s reputation as a great place to live, work and play. It will promote the town, improve cultural and community life, foster educational needs, boost tourism, support the town economy and help explore a sense of identity. The official vision for the museum is to:
- Celebrate story of Guildford and it’s regional, national and global impact on site and online
- Be a focus for community engagement and outreach in Borough and county
- Be a place of learning and creativity
- Be a cultural hub for Guildford and the Borough
What does all this mean in practice?
The most important change will be a new entrance linking the museum to the castle grounds. Today 500,000 visit the Castle Grounds annually but most are probably not aware there is a museum just outside the gates and only 10,000 find their way there. Another big change will be café which will benefit the Castle Grounds and the museum.
The museum itself will have more space, modern facilities and be run by a larger team specialising in key areas of museum work and outreach. The galleries will include a large exhibition space capable of holding blockbuster touring exhibitions that will significantly support the finances of the free museum. A cafe will provide an important added attraction to the museum and the castle grounds.
How much will it cost?
The overall proposed budget is £18 million. This has raised some eyebrows but is in line with many heritage projects around the country. Art galleries and museums are not just cultural amenities for those interested in art and history. They are able to have a much wider impact on the reputation, economy and social life of a town. The Guildford Museum Project should be seen in this light. £6.6 million will come from the town and the rest will be raised from sponsors and grant making bodies.
How long will it take?
Councillors are always telling us these things take time but there is a broad goal of towards the middle of the next decade. The original working party set up to look into the future of the museum first met in October 2000 and its report was accepted by the Council in 2005. Work on the museum proposal took several years and an unsuccessful lottery bid was submitted in 2013 followed by a second attempt in 2014. Following the second disappointment a review was carried out into the future of the museum resulting in the appointment of the current team in 2018. The difference this time round is that we have a team with a track record of setting up museums and even stronger backing from the Council and the community.
Who is working on the project?
The Council has made some great choices and gone for the best people it can find starting with Stuart Davies Associates who carried out an independent survey for the review of the museum in 2015. The architects, ZMMA, worked on the highly successful Watts Gallery as well as many other projects nationally The Project Managers, Julia Holbery Associates, have brought several specialist companies. These include Fourth Street for the business plan, ZMMA for the interpretation plan, Cause4 specialising in fundraising, and Galant Media who will be writing the digital strategy.
What has been going on over the last year?
The project team headed by Julia Holberry Associates has been doing a lot of planning and writing reports. These reports are needed for two reasons. On the one hand they will define what needs to be done to create the museum. They also needed to show donors and the National Lottery Heritage Fund that we have a viable project worth supporting.
Will the museum be completely different?
The new museum will have a very different feel, but it will retain the seventeenth century Carter House and the Victorian Schoolroom, popular with schools will still be available. 48 Quarry Street will remain so the museum will retain much of its historic character whilst also having a high-quality modern look in other parts of the building. The museum will also include displays on very recent history as well as its distant past with plans for displays on satellite design and the gaming industry. To compliment these hi-tech industries the museum hopes to use modern digital technology to enhance its displays
What happens next?
The immediate next step is to talk to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and apply for a grant. We will find out next Spring whether this is successful. The museum staff also need to renew the Arts Council Accreditation for Guildford Museum in order to be eligible for grants. The Council is also planning on setting up the museum as a charitable trust in order to apply for sponsorship easier.
The project has a long way to go and big question is whether the town can raise the £12 million needed on top of what it is already contributing through the Council. The Council is quite open about this risk. NLHF funding far from certain and certain planning permissions are needed to build on a site that is a scheduled, monument, listed and of archaeological interest. It is certain that this project will evolve. Projects always do but after 20 years of waiting Guildford is more determined than every to get a museum that will do this town proud.