Just last week, I was cycling into town when a dozen of our project postcards slipped out of my pocket and blew across the road.

I couldn’t just leave them to litter the streets, so I parked my bike and set about chasing them! Luckily, a helpful passer-by saw my plight and jumped in to help.

As he passed me his pile of cards, he said, “Oh! This is that museum project. I think I’m against!”

As you’ll have noticed, I’m never one to shy away from a conversation with anyone, particularly when I find someone who’s not a fan of the project, so we started to talk.

It turned out that he actually loved the project and the design, and thought it would be fantastic for Swindon, but just didn’t like (what he thought was) the chosen location. He didn’t want it to be in Old Town, but thought that it really should be in the town centre, where it can make the most difference.

He was pretty surprised to find out that the proposed site is right in the town centre. It reminded me just how hard it is to communicate everything we’re doing, and how much I sometimes assume that people already know. So, this month, I’m making this column a bit of an FAQ!

  • Why are we doing it?

Swindon is an amazing place, but it suffers from a poor image. That has a impact on getting the investment the town needs. Meanwhile, we have amazing museum collections, which are going to waste. Iconic new museums and galleries have been shown to transform places and change how people think and feel about them.

  • Where will it be?

Back in 2013, SBC ran a consultation as part of its town Masterplanning work, and identified the area by the Wyvern Theatre which could be developed to become a ‘Cultural Quarter’. It already has the theatre, is adjacent to the Central Library, and has a range of organisations like ArtSite, the Museum of Computing and the ShoeBox Theatre and Prime Theatre. The Museum and Art Gallery will be built on the old car park site along with a new public square. The location means that it will be very prominent, and, crucially, bring people, and more investment, right into the heart of the town centre, where we need it most.

  • So, what are Swindon’s collections?

We’ve got 100,000 objects in the museum collection, most of which is stored away out of sight, including palaeontology, geology, archaeology, Egyptology, natural history, botany, photography, local art, industry (including a great collection of Garrard record players), among others. Not forgetting everyone’s favourite gharial, the fish-eating crocodile the star of many great #crocselfie photos on twitter! We also have an exceptional modern British art and ceramics collection, with artists famous enough to draw people nationally and internationally.

And we’d like to add a few more stars to the collection, like a Swindon-built Spitfire, and borrow some objects back from national collections. Did you know that the first stegosaur skeleton described by science was actually found in Swindon?

Finally, we’ll be working with partners like the Science Museum and the UK Space Agency to inspire our young scientists and engineers of the future.

  • Why does the building look a bit like a ship?

It’s true, the architects liked the idea of an Ark to hold Swindon’s heritage safely, and also draw a link between Brunel’s railway and his shipbuilding. But, the primary idea of the design is the building’s two great ‘spires’ (currently missing from Swindon’s town centre), one each leaning towards Swindon’s Old Town on the hill, and its New Town at the Railway Village. The museum will point towards our two historic centres, and tie them together in the heart of the town.

<li>Who are we and why do we care?

This project is obviously being delivered in partnership with SBC, but it’s not being run by SBC. We were set up as an independent charity, with a board of trustees (who have put their own time and money into developing the bid), and a single member of staff – me!

We’re also fortunate to be supported by our colleagues, including the current museum and art gallery in Bath Road, the Friends of SMAG and a diverse group of other tireless and enthusiastic volunteers.

And we’re all doing it because we care about Swindon, and we believe in the power of our art and heritage to make a difference in people’s lives. And we believe Swindon deserves it.