THE team behind Swindon’s ambitious museum and art gallery bid have hit back at claims of foul play.

Opponents of the proposals, which would see a new state of the art facility built on the former Wyvern Theatre car park, have taken to social media in recent days to accuse campaign volunteers of bullying people into supporting their plans.

Posters have claimed that members of the public are being pressured into signing postcards as part of a move to build up evidence of widespread support.

Others suggested that the campaign was leaving out key details around location choice and cost to guarantee a supportive response. One poster wrote: “This is not consultation or consent, it’s bullying.”

But news of the claims has prompted a defiant response from the Museum and Art Gallery Trust who are leading the drive for public support.

With a vital bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund due to be submitted later this year, of which evidence of consultation and public backing is a key factor, the trust are keen to defend their approach.

Rod Hebden, director of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, said: “We were really disappointed to read on social media that some people have been accusing our volunteers, who give up their free time to talk about the plans at local fetes, of forcing postcards on people or bullying them. That is untrue, and sadly it is also disrespectful of those volunteers.

“They believe the plans will bring huge benefits to the town we all care about, and they are enthusiastic when they tell people about them, but they are equally keen to listen and debate.

“Almost everyone we meet also wants Swindon to win a bid for £10m lottery funding, but when now and again someone tells us they can’t support it, we treat them and their arguments with respect, and agree to differ.

“We also take note of comments and trends.

"Yesterday, for example, we responded by spending several hours with the architect, engineers and project manager feeding back what people say, so that the design could be altered or improved where appropriate. What people say to us actually makes a difference.

“We have been doing the best we can within our resources as a charity to inform our community of our plans, encourage them to respond, hear their ideas, and use those ideas to develop our plans further.

“In April, we held a well-publicised public event at New College, to which all those we knew opposed the plans, including those who are now using the term 'bullying', were invited.

“The Adver reported independently ‘With the evening drawing to a close, a show of hands indicated strong support in the room for the trust’s ambitious proposals’. We counted 140 for, and six against our plans.

“Since then, we have had meetings with various people who, like us, care about Swindon’s heritage, and have had conversations with many groups including teachers, business people, and of course residents who have attended carnivals, fetes and fun days.

“We will continue to do that until the bid goes in this autumn. Why wouldn’t we? After all, it’s a project that’s going to benefit Swindon people.

“The fact that we have had more than 700 additional expressions of support through various channels in the past week alone suggests that there is genuine growing support for a new museum and art gallery on the site near the Wyvern Theatre.

“We will be at the Pinehurst Fun Day from 1 pm to 5pm on Saturday and at the Central Library on July 21 and 29, and at Stratton Festival on Saturday, July 22.”