MIKE Pringle, along with poet and cultural event organiser Hilda Sheehan, took over the running of the Richard Jefferies Museum about a decade ago.

At the time, the museum devoted to the passionate Victorian nature writer was attracting perhaps 800 visitors per year.

Last year there were about 15,000. The need for the extra visitor space the old cowshed would provide is pressing.

“The idea of another building emerged purely out of need. It didn’t come the other way around – it wasn’t, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have another building.’ It was actually that with the sheer numbers of people we’re getting through the doors, we’re utterly reliant on nature.

“Of course, that’s exactly as it should be. It’s fantastic – we like being outdoors. But if it suddenly rains, or if the forecast is bad, it means everybody who is here has to get inside the house, and we have to start limiting numbers.

“It’s a solution-driven idea, not a dream.”

Mike, whose background is in event organisation, puts the remarkable growth in the museum’s popularity down to a broad spectrum of events ranging from history-themed exhibitions to dance performances – and a strong emphasis on quality.

All, he insists, must fit in with matters the author was passionate about.

“They’ve got to be good quality things. They can’t be just any old naff rubbish. They have to be things real people are interested in, and you just keep finding those things.

“When we took over, there was a general air that it was pointless because he was just a dusty old Victorian, and who was going to be interested in that? But to us, he’s about nature and the environment, which is very pertinent now. He’s also about writing, which means the arts, and the arts is a wonderful sphere. So when we have dance here, or music or poetry, they all tie into that aspect of him.

“We have agriculture – we’re on an old farmstead. We have grounds, so people can grow things, which is all about the land providing – again, a Jefferies theme.

“You can have so many aspects that people can enjoy. They all fit into one of those things.

“Initially I didn’t know Jefferies. Like so many people in Swindon I was another one who said, ‘All these years I’ve lived in Swindon and driven past that place, I’ve never really known.’

“The thing that lured me in was that he is authentic. You don’t have to make anything up with Jefferies in that tick-box way that so much modern culture is.

“He really did write some amazing things and he really did live in this house in Swindon. You don’t have to make up a story; it’s authentic culture and I think Swindon has done very well at forgetting a lot of its authentic culture.

“For me it’s fantastic to have a piece that’s still so real.”

In many ways, Mike believes, Jefferies is just as important for what he represented as for what he wrote.

“It was nature and the countryside and our relationship with the environment. Those were the things Jefferies was passionate about, and if you put aside his desire to be a writer, that’s what he’s left us with.

“For us, if a kid sits under the mulberry tree here, they’re sitting under the same mulberry tree, experiencing the same things that Jefferies did, and that’s much richer than trying to persuade a child to read a bit of Victorian text.

“For me it’s these big ideas about us and the environment. His final book, The Story of my Heart, is about the fact that the planet should provide for all, if we were not so greedy.

“We need to look after the planet and the planet will look after us if we just put aside our own personal greeds and our focus on the wrong things.

“When he was at the Adver he was writing agricultural columns. He understood that relationship – and that, now, is what we are talking about. It’s our relationship with the land that’s gone wrong. It’s not just about climate change, it’s about vegetarianism and the way animals are treated.

“It all comes down to the same thing.”

The museum’s website is richardjefferies.org