Museum re-opens July 2020
July 2020 – the Council issued a statement “Guildford Museum is looking forward to welcoming visitors back after being closed for the past twelve months for essential repairs providing another free attraction to visit in our historic town centre. The museum opens with a temporary exhibition ‘Commemoration and Celebration’ to commemorate Guildford’s experience of Victory in Europe Day marking the 75th anniversary since the end of the Second World War. The museum will initially open with the Commemoration and Celebration exhibition and the Pre history and Roman sections only. Further displays will be reinstalled and open in the autumn.”
Repairs to the museum
The works have included “structural repairs, damp proofing, roof repairs, redecoration, a new fire alarm, an upgraded visitor point and toilet and an improved back of house space for preparing exhibitions”. For a detailed article see the Friends of Museum newsletter for March 2020
Lead Councillor for the Environment, Cllr James Steel says in the Council press statement “Many of you will be aware of the Council’s museum redevelopment project where we were considering building a new museum for the town. This was heavily reliant on National Heritage Lottery Funding which was withdrawn for hundreds of ventures across the UK including ours as due to the pandemic they needed to divert money to the Heritage sector. We are reviewing this ambitious project and by the autumn hope to have some exciting news on how we will continue to tell the story of Guildford. The museum has ambitious plans over the next 5 years including the addition of new collections and the story they tell.”
Scaled down design
It is encouraging to hear Councillor Steel talk about forthcoming “ambitious plans over the next 5 years” but we must wait to hear what they are. Any ideas that bring more people into the town centre and help them engage with our heritage are a good thing. However, the town needs to get on with something. The Council was right to pursue ambitious lottery bids that could have made a big difference to the town and it must not be blamed for the fact that luck was never on its side. However, lessons must be learned. Guildford has spent the last 25 years pursuing 4 unsuccessful lottery bids. These schemes take time. The most recent project took three years to get through initial stages of reports, consultations and committees before a project manager was even appointed. Meanwhile, the museum was left to languish for over two decades. The Town must not spend another five years going over ground it has already covered.
And yet a previous statement issued by the Council suggests that is what we might get. An agenda item for the Executive on 23rd June 2020 proposed the cancellation of the museum project. It ran “it is proposed that this project as it currently exists is stopped. However, it could be incorporated into the Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme going forward.” The item was withdrawn for reasons that had nothing to do with the museum but gives a good idea of the Council’s approach. It stated “This is an opportunity to consider a scaled down design for the Museum in an alternative location such as the North Street Development,that could be more easily delivered in terms of funding and historic consent. Much of the work undertaken to date on the services to be provided by the Museum can be reutilised and repurposed for an amended design and location.”
The problem with this statement is that the Council commissioned a report in 2015 which looked at other sites and concluded that the current position was the best. All the other options were too commercially lucrative to be viable and it is hard to believe that valuable real estate in the High Street will be released for a museum. All this statement appears to promise is more committees, reports and consultants.
Here is the statement in full
Agenda Item for Executive 23rd June 2020
|NOTE: This item was removed before the meeting due to another unrelated item. Hence this is not yet Council policy and things may change.|
“Due to COVID-19 the Council’s application for £4 million of National LotteryHeritage Funding has been withdrawn. This funding is being diverted by the National Lottery to support and fund the current front line COVID19 situation.This reduces the overall funding for this project. Under the current circumstances it would be difficult to find this additional funding elsewhere. The overarching cost of constructing the current design is high and in light of the COVID19 emergency budget, it is possible that there would be a shortfall in reserves and the Council would not be in a position to provide the necessary funding.
This is an opportunity to consider a scaled down design for the Museum in an alternative location such as the North Street Development,that could be more easily delivered in terms of funding and historic consent. Much of the work undertaken to date on the services to be provided by the Museum can be reutilised and repurposed for an amended design and location. If the project is stopped there is no further financial exposure for the Council.
The Council’s underlying need to borrow would reduce by £6.5 million and approximately £369k saved on borrowing and MRP costs charged to the General Fund revenue account Therefore, it is proposed that this project as it currently exists is stopped. However, it could be incorporated into the Guildford Economic Regeneration Programme going forward.”
Background to the Museum Project
Guildford has been waiting a long time for a rejuvenated museum. In fact plans to develop it go back almost to its beginnings. The last major extension was over 100 years ago and was built in 1911 to house the rural life collection donated by the garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll. There were proposals after the First World War to build a new museum and library as a memorial to the fallen. Much later, ambitious plans for a Surrey Museum on the site of Farnham Road bus station were formally adopted in the Borough Plan for 1983 but never implemented. More modest attempts to build on the museum garden and add an entrance into the Castle Grounds also fell foul of planning and financial obstacles. Then in 1997 Matthew Alexander tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Borough to purchase The Chestnuts as a Lewis Carroll Centre when it came on the market.
The National Lottery set up in 1995 was a great opportunity for Museums to access grants. Guildford applied for one almost immediately with plans for a entrance from the Castle Grounds. This was rejected in 1997. Then incurrent in July 2000 when the Arts and Recreation Committee supported “significant Council investment in the museum”. However, plans for an extension or Castle Grounds entrance were held up by construction of G-Live. The Executive accepted a report in 2005 for a lottery bid. The museum was restructured and became part of a heritage service linking Guildford House, the museum, undercroft, Guildhall and Wanborough Barn. A new Heritage Office led the lottery bid bud applications in 2013 and 2014 were both unsuccessful. In 2015 the new Conservative Council planned to sell part of the museum, close the rest and reduce it to a few displays linked to the tourist office. As part of this process the Surrey Archaeological Society was evicted from the museum but the public backlash along with opposition from Councillors saved the museum. A review looked into alternative locations and in April 2016 the Council approved a new project. It was not until August 2018 that Julia Holberry Associates were appointed to lead the project. The next 18 months produced a lot of reports as an application was prepared and stakeholders consulted.
NLHF passed the “Expression of Interest” submitted in February 2020 and the project was invited to submit a full Round 1 application. This was done in March 2020 but the Covid 19 crisis put a stop to the entire project