ROD HEBDEN, director of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, updates us on the progress of the bid for a new £22m building, which will form a new cultural centre for Swindon

By now, hopefully many of you will know something about Swindon’s ambition to build a new museum and art gallery, and you may have even seen the model, as we’ve toured around Swindon events to let people get a closer look.

The reaction we’ve had from people has been fantastic, and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. But there is clearly more we can do to open up the project to people in terms of what exactly it will do, and even what will be in the building.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to use this column to answer a few of those questions.

One of the more unexpected reactions I’ve heard – and people have even written in to the Adver to express it – is that Swindon is just too ugly to have a great new building, as if, somehow, Swindon is just not good enough. I disagree.

But while these negative perceptions of Swindon still exist, both inside the town and out, the problems which they create are entirely real. Employers struggle to attract and retain staff, visitors stay away and parts of our town centre await regeneration.

We need a project bold enough to break the cycle. Something which authentically builds on Swindon’s great heritage of innovation and creativity, and inspires a brighter future.

And that, of course, is what the new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery project is designed to do.

Firstly, here is what this museum and art gallery will NOT be. It will not be just a place to hang our great art collection (amazing as that art certainly is) or display our extensive museum collection. This is not just a bigger building to enable us to do more of the same. And this will certainly not be a cookie-cutter museum which could be dropped, just as easily, into any town in the country.

The new museum and art gallery is a unique opportunity to involve the people of Swindon from the start, before it is even built. We want to reach audiences who have never set foot in the current museum, and, in some cases, who have never set foot in any museum.We want the project to be truly participatory.

It will not be a building to house objects, but a space continually inspired by the needs and ideas of local people. We want to instil pride through involvement, creating a space for the people of Swindon, with the people of Swindon. And we’re already speaking with a range of local charities and community groups to see how we can make this happen.

It won’t be a project which ‘consults’ with the public, but a project in which people can actively participate.

We want 200,000 curators, with everyone in the town able to shape the direction their museum takes, able to meaningfully participate through the democratic sharing and prioritising of ideas.

This is Swindon’s museum, not ours. We have all the ingredients to create a leading museum and gallery, owned and championed by local people, with ever-evolving spaces and exhibitions designed to celebrate Swindon’s heritage and inspire its future.