Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Culture Deserts

Swindon's new museum and art gallery is now dead in the water.

The action of one petition (which was misguided at it's very basic level, just poking at one hole as an example, they never once said where the money would come from to purchase the London Street carriagework buildings from Network Rail) has caused the main financial backer to leave.

Robert Hiscox takes with him his project man, his connections and most importantly of all, his money. The reason, the perceived negative reception locally to the Wyvern car park site, as opposed to the London Street site.

While the petition received coverage, at 700 signatories, it really didn't amount to much, simply the usual Mechanics Trust/Civic Voice loud shouting and easy Adver headlines but with scant detail at all behind it. The rest of Swindon, population 209,156, didn't really have their voices heard. There was no groundswell of opinion either way for or against the project, or strong views on the proposed site. This shows a lack of basic lack of public engagement on the part of the museum, Swindon Borough Council, the museum trust and most notably, Robert Hiscox himself. You can line up as many big name backers as you like, but if you've not spoken to the people who are to have the place on their doorstep, then you really are approaching it arse-backwards. Mr Hiscox's comments when interviewed about being able to get good quality coffee in Swindon struck a strange and patronising tone.

The big money donation has gone, as has the influence, the very highly-qualified Mr Van Dekker and the momentum. SBC were very lucky that the energy needed to push the project was being provided by Robert Hiscox and the trust, this will not transfer to SBC. The council have no money any more and no staff to spend time pushing this project.

This best hope is that another influential individual or group fills the shoes, but that's a big ask.

If the vacuum is filled by the Mechanics' Trust, who still seem to operate under the misapprehension they represent the will of all Swindon people (those people being about 7 individuals and probably a dog), then I look forward to seeing them try to buy enough scratchcards to raise the money.

Congratulations to the petition-raiser, the 700 people who signed it and the Mechanics' Trust, Swindon now has no chance of a museum and art gallery for at least a decade. The project may not have been perfect, but it was the only one there was.

Swindon Centric hopes you're proud of yourselves. 

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