Rod Hebden, director of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust update on progress of the bid for a new £22m building

I JUST can’t describe how great it feels, after the long nights of winter, to get on my bike to leave home in the morning, and then come home in the evening, in daylight! Everything feels better out in the sunlight.

Now 2017 was, without doubt, a pretty turbulent year, with uncertainty everywhere. With everything that seemed to be happening to us, it was easy to feel like we were losing control of our country and our future. And lack of a feeling of control is a bit cause of people’s stress. Right now, 2018 doesn’t look any clearer, but that doesn’t stop us taking control for ourselves.

Back at the end of November, we successfully submitted our Round One bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to help build a new home for our museum and art gallery. A new future-looking facility, to make us resilient and fit for the 21st century, and to give our town centre a focal point to be proud of and build our regeneration around.

But now we must wait. After the submission comes our assessment visit and follow-up questions. Every indication is hugely positive, so we’re confident that the project will now be one that the HLF want to support. But, there are around 30 projects, and only enough money available for a small handful to be funded. Whether Swindon gets this investment in our future now depends on factors quite out of our control.

So, we’re taking control of our present.

The Friends of the museum have been out in force, cleaning up and replanting the front of the museum – bringing some colour and some pride of place into our corner of Old Town. With the removal of the old canopy and our funky new (Swindon-designed) signs, the front of Swindon’s museum has been transformed since February last year.

Our exhibitions will be constantly changing and improving, working more and more with local partners around the town. The Euston Road School exhibition, just opened, celebrates an artistic movement which aimed to take back modern art from elite and make it accessible to everyday people again.

Our popular archaeology gallery is being closed this month, and will be re-opened on April 3, refreshed with new displays showing many of Swindon’s collections which have been worked on by dedicated local volunteers.

And we’re going to tap into Swindon’s creativity and innovation.

Despite the constraints of the building, we’re piloting new schools programmes this year, so we can support more children to reach their potential.

And we’re planning a series of events and activities to trial, which will generate more of our own income and give more people more ways to enjoy and celebrate Swindon’s fantastic heritage.

Most importantly, we’re doing all of this by working in partnership with some of the many Swindon organisations that have come forward to support us.

Great museums start with great collections, but they don’t stop with them.

Great museums change lives. We’re using 2018 to do just that.