‘That’s amazing, why didn’t I think of that!’ This phrase pretty well sums up my last month, as I keep presenting our plans to different individuals and groups only to have them suggest brilliant new ways that the new museum and art gallery can help people in Swindon.

Last month, I said a little bit about why I think people are wrong to dismiss Swindon as a lost cause. I also described how the whole of Swindon should be involved to use this project to tackle some of the perceptions of the town, and the real damage those perceptions have. Now I want to scratch the surface to see how museums can really affect a place, and what it can mean for Swindon.

Swindon has an incredible heritage of innovation and creativity, which means that we’re great at coming at problems from new angles. Very often, the ideas seem to be inspired by the spirit of the railway workers and the ethos which created the Mechanics Institute and the healthcare provision which famously became the blueprint for the NHS.

At the core of this project is our belief that Swindon’s rich heritage can inspire a brighter future for the town, using these lessons from its past. The role of the new museum and gallery, championed by local people, using ever-evolving spaces, exhibitions and activity, is to celebrate Swindon’s heritage to inspire its future. Swindon’s distinct heritage (both art and history) has the potential to be transformative, creating opportunity and regenerating the town. Our ambition should be built on that great heritage, not constrained by the current town centre. And it’s hard to think of another town where there is such a huge gap between the negative perceptions of the place and the reality of what it really has to offer. This clear gap shows the enormous potential for Swindon’s transformation. The first step is to create a leading future-facing facility which presents Swindonians as the visionary people we know them to be. Then, most importantly, the building must become an open, democratic platform for Swindon’s communities to innovate and to address our own town’s needs, and seize the opportunities we have.

Since the closure of the railway works, Swindon has struggled to define itself, as the new generation loses touch with the railway that sparked Swindon’s expansion, that transformed what was here before and continues to influence what has come after. By bringing out, and exploring the wealth of our collections, we can re-discover our place in the world, from the archaeology upon which Swindon was built, through our industrial past and technology-driven future.

The town’s need for physical regeneration is well-recognised, but so is its need for improved educational provision for our children. And, like many towns, we also have increasing challenges with mental health. Nearly 10% of our children suffer from mental health issues and more than one-in-fifteen of our over-65s struggle with dementia.

In all of these areas, museums have been proven to make a real difference, and people in Swindon deserve to be given these same opportunities.

One exciting is example is actually on our rooftops. The railway men knew the value of nature and green spaces, and the GWR park was a thriving part of their town. Unfortunately, our town centre ranks as one of the lowest in the country for urban green space, despite lots of evidence of the benefits it can bring to people. Our roof-top gardens and the public realm in front of the building can help address that need directly. Even better, we have already begun to explore whether a local mental health charity could use our rooftop gardens for their therapeutic work, and whether the museum café could be used to support people returning to work full time, rather than simply being run as just another town-centre coffee shop.

If we are successful in getting to the next phase of work on the project, it is exactly this sort of partnership work we will be continuing to build with Swindon communities. The museum and art gallery project has huge potential for Swindon, but we must include Swindon people in its design.