A NEW director has been appointed to lead the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust as it looks to make its ambitious £22m vision a reality.

The trust didn’t have to look far as it moved quickly to find a replacement for former boss Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker, who resigned a fortnight ago.

Rod Hebden has lived in Swindon since 2006 and brings with him more than a decade of experience working for organisations including the Science Museum, the National Trust and the Cheltenham Festivals.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help transform Swindon,” he said.

“Since I moved here I’ve come to love the town; the great stories it has to tell, and the incredible things it still has to offer.

“I’ve been watching the project go on for months and when I saw there was an opportunity to help I put myself forward and it went from there.

“I’ve been involved in lots of big projects - working for national brands and organisations. I’ve led on Heritage Lottery bids in London that have successfully been awarded millions of pounds. I’ve worked on projects where we’ve had to bring a lot of stakeholders together.

“One of things I want to do is engage more with the people of Swindon. I don’t think they’ve had enough of a say on, or seen enough of, the project. I want to make sure we’re talking to everyone.

“It’s about the public at large. We’ve got a thriving town centre and we want to go where people are. There will be opportunities to see the model here in the museum but we want to take it out to schools and to different organisations so people can ask questions.

“There are a lot of exciting things to talk about, as well as the challenges.

“I believe passionately that this will do amazing things for Swindon in terms of regenerating the town centre and raising our profile. But we need to have that conversation - it’s about being open, transparent, and getting out and talking to people.”

Rod doesn’t just bring professional experience to his new role. He also brings an understanding of the local players and issues that have been at the heart of the increasingly heated debate around the very idea of a new-build gallery and museum.

He was a member of the Swindon Heritage Board and more recently sat on the board of the Love Lydiard Trust which was one of the community bids attempting to take over the running of Lydiard Park and House from Swindon Borough Council.

That awareness could prove instrumental as the trust looks to repair the division that has characterised the project in recent months.

“I came from a science and engineering background but found myself working in heritage,” added Rod.

“We should be looking after our railway heritage better and doing more with it in Swindon, that goes without saying.

“But I think the museum and gallery can be complimentary - Swindon isn’t just the railway heritage and it can’t be eclipsed by it.

“We have an amazing story to tell - the railway is part of that story but what happened before and what we’ve done since is also part of it.

“This is about taking that next step and looking to the future. We need to look after our past, but we don’t need to replicate it.”

With just six months left before the trust needs to submit a £10m funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, re-energising public opinion and getting the average man on the street to feel invested in the new-build vision remains a challenging task.

“I’m confident we can get a great bid in November,” said Rod. “But I’m also confident that I’m not going to do it on my own and nor should I.

“An HLF bid is a huge document, it’s a series of different projects that you have to pull together.

“Everything from how we talk to people in Swindon (now and in the future), the business plan has to be sound and robust, the architecture and build needs to be of the right quality with sustainable credentials, and we need to make sure we’re looking after the collections we’ve got because they are the core of this project.

“The first thing I’ve started to do, on day one, is to make a list of all the different people in Swindon who I think want to be part of this project and can help, because we need that help.

“We’ve got a lot of expertise, a lot of great skills and a lot of enthusiasm in Swindon who could be part of this project.”