MY last column of 2016 focused on the many success stories of the previous 12 months and conveyed my optimism for the year ahead. So I was therefore very disappointed to hear of the sad news on New Year’s Eve of the fire at the Coate museum.
Thankfully, it appears many of the items within the facility survived intact and we will be working closely with heritage groups to find new storage facilities in which to house them.
It also saddened me to see a headline in the aftermath of the fire which claimed historical assets in the town have faced years of neglect.
There is a perception among some people that the council does not care about Swindon’s heritage. It is a view that simply is not true.
The council works very closely with heritage groups within the town. I am fortunate to be the chairman of the Swindon Heritage Board, an independent body, which is passionate about preserving our rich heritage. It is why we approved a heritage strategy, which aims to use our historical assets to drive the economic and social regeneration of Swindon.
Our proposed new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery forms part of that strategy because we want to be able to display many more of the paintings and artefacts that we currently have to keep in storage. This is why we have promised to plough £5m into the project, such is our commitment to our arts and heritage.
You may have heard that Kirklees Council has sold a painting for many millions and be asking why don’t we do the same. We looked at this, but because of the legal conditions attached to the works, we would get only about one twentieth of the sale values, and we would only get that money once.
Over the years, we have successfully bid for Lottery money to revitalise Lydiard Park and House and we continue to preserve our railway heritage through the ever popular Steam Museum.
We have found new uses for the former Railway Museum, in Faringdon Road, as The Platform and we recently transferred the nearby Railway Cottage to a local heritage group, as well as supporting the refurbishment of the chapel and war memorial at Radnor Street Cemetery.
We have been working for many years with developers to bring the old Locarno site back to life and, despite also not owning the Mechanics' Institute, we remain committed to finding a solution for this once great building.
Unfortunately, the passage of time does not make it easy to bring these buildings back to their former glory, but that does not mean we should not try. Letting our heritage fall by the wayside is not on our agenda.