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After ambitious gallery plan fails, Swindon unveils its Plan B

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Plans for a new art gallery were rejected by the Heritage Lottery FundPlans for a new art gallery were rejected by the Heritage Lottery FundSwindon Council has unveiled plans to create a new cultural hub in the town centre with the backing of Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, almost a year after plans for a striking new gallery were dashed.

In May last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a funding bid for a £22.5m museum and art gallery, which would have formed the centrepiece of a new cultural hub.

Swindon is said to own the best collection of 20th century British art outside of London – works by Lucian Freud, Henry Moore, LS Lowry and Graham Sutherland, bought with money from the rapid expansion of Swindon in the 1980s, are owned by the council, but the current museum in Old Town can only display a fraction of the work at any one time.

At Swindon Council's cabinet meeting next week, councillors will be asked to approve a new approach which will involve rebuilding the ageing Wyvern Theatre with sufficient space for a new and permanent museum and art gallery.

The rebuild, says the council, could be partly funded by selling the Civic Offices on Euclid Street – just over the road from the theatre – potentially removing the need to apply for millions of pounds in grant funding.

The Wyvern Theatre will need significant investment and refurbishment over the coming years as it is likely to reach the end of its life by 2027. A strategic decision is therefore being proposed which takes into account the future of both the Wyvern and the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership has already agreed a sum of £250,000 to enable the council to complete a detailed redevelopment plan, over the next 12 months, for the area around the Wyvern, focussing on enhancing the cultural and community offering.

The intention is to replace the Wyvern Theatre with a new, larger theatre and include permanent community and civic facilities with a new museum and art gallery.

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for the town centre, said: “As a new cabinet member, I am pleased to have overseen, over the last six months, approval for the Zurich’s new headquarters and the £270m Ski Slope at North Star.

"Nobody could have said that a year ago and now I want to solve the problem of the future of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

“I believe art should be seen and Swindon has one of the best modern art collections in the country, yet most of it is in storage.

“I am therefore proposing an ambitious and realistic plan that councillors agree in principle to sell or redevelop the Civic Offices to help pay for a rebuild of the ageing Wyvern Theatre

“This new larger theatre would attract higher profile events and performers and include sufficient space to be a permanent home for our art collections and artefacts that will be financially sustainable. Imagine a single foyer: turn left for theatre, turn right for museum and art gallery.

“By taking a fresh look at what is best for our collections and artefacts, for local residents, for staff and for the Council, I believe this new approach is one that all local residents and politicians can enthusiastically get behind."