MEMBERSHIP of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery costs £15 per year.

The fee entitles people to, among other things, three issues of the Friends’ journal and discounted entry to regular talks covering everything from architecture to the work of artists, as well a access to various trips and social gatherings.

It also gives members the knowledge that they are helping to conserve and promote the collections and fund the acquisition of new pieces.

Among the latest is a stunning painting of Regent Circus in 1945 by Harold Dearden, an image of which adorns the Friends’ current membership application form.

“We need to avoid a soulless society,” said Linda Kasmaty, who is originally from Manchester and came to Swindon in 1973. She became involved with the Friends after retiring about 12 years ago from a career as a science teacher which included two decades at Commonweal School.

“Art is an escape from other things. Art speaks to you, pictures speak to you, ceramics speak to you – when you let them in.

“By having that Museum and Art Gallery…I think about what would happen if we didn’t. In the absence of that, there would be so many people’s lives unenriched. I just feel it’s incredibly important in life.

“If you love art as I do, and it affects your life and has a profound effect on you when you look at it, then you’re switched on to it and you would say art enriches people’s lives.

“Just as you can go into a garden and feel uplifted, the spirit soars – in a way that it doesn’t soar with retail therapy! It’s to do with the soul and cherishing the soul.

“If people don’t look at pictures and feel anything, then the Museum and Art Gallery exists so they can practice.”

Her enthusiasm fully extends to the museum which shares a building space with the gallery at the junction of Bath Road and Victoria Road.

Membership of the Friends allows people to volunteer for duty at the desk there, greeting and helping visitors.

“I haven’t known a single person who’s come in when I’ve been on reception and not said anything. Nearly everybody says, ‘Wow this is great.’ People’s reaction is great – it’s just getting them through that door.”

The archaeological section has been refurbished, the better to show off treasures such as hoards of coins and the huge ancient pot found in Highworth.

“It’s evidence of where we came from. We tend to think that our ancestors virtually had their knuckles trailing along the ground, but they were making amazing things. They were living splendid lives and this area was very much inhabited. It’s so lovely here – it’s a perfect place to settle and grow things.”

The sections dealing with the more recent history of Swindon - everything from industry to entertainment - are equally popular.

“So much effort goes into it. You find that different people are attracted to different things. You get people coming in and they’re almost speechless because there are photographs of somebody from their family. It very much connects with local people.

“The Friends were formed - and are still there – to support the Museum and Art Gallery.

“One of main things that we’re doing is raising funds for the Museum and Art Gallery so they can do things they might not be doing otherwise, that they might find financially difficult.

“All museums and art galleries, I would say, have friends organisations who try to put on events and publicise the work they’re doing.

“The idea is that you are expressly saying by becoming a Friend, ‘I support the work of the Museum and Art Gallery, I’m interested in its success and I want to promote it as much as I can.”

Current ambitions of the Friends include finding a way to have occasional Sunday opening in addition to the current hours of 11am until 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and perhaps some evening openings allowing busy people to visit after work.

Membership forms are available at the museum, and applications can also be made via