Weston Museum has been awarded over a million pounds by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to completely refurbish and modernise the hugely popular Burlington Street attraction.
Weston Town Council acquired the premises and took over entering into a legally binding agreement with North Somerset Council, which still owns the collections, and Somerset County Council which maintains them.
There has been a museum in Weston-super-Mare since 1862, located initially in the Albert Hall next to Emmanuel Church, then in the Boulevard Library and from 1974 in the converted former Gas Company workshops in Burlington Street.
Though well-loved, especially by countless visiting school children, the Burlington Street venue has seen very little investment over the past 40 years. Town councillors realised the place had become tired and was failing to meet modern expectations and so they established a Museum Working Party to effect change.
In 2013 an initial Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £72,000 was given to investigate ways forward and create a sound business model. Messrs Chedburn & Dudley, Somerset architects with much experience in converting historic buildings, and design consultants Imagemakers were commissioned to draw up plans.
Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “This is a transformational project for Weston-Super-Mare. Telling the story of Weston from pre-historic to present day, the revitalized museum will chart Weston’s rise from small Somerset village to one of England’s best-loved holiday destinations. Improved collection displays and engaging volunteer opportunities and activities will entertain and inform visitors to the site for many years to come.”
From outset the Museum Working Party has been determined to maintain the unique ambience of the Courtyard and to make greater significance of the building’s history. The bulky 1970s staircase will be replaced by modern stairs, a new lift and two eye-catching bridges, ensuring accessibility for all throughout the entire building. Completely new exhibition galleries will be created with a more stimulating display of artefacts aided by interactive devices and hands-on technology. Hitherto unseen rooms will be brought into service allowing much more of the vast collection to be seen by visitors and a specially created secure gallery will allow high-security regional and national exhibitions to take place. There will be education and community meeting facilities and new shop and cafe outlets.
Flushed with success but refusing to rest on laurels the Town Council is even now looking at further phases of museum development. A currently inaccessible second courtyard which contains an original 1860s mews cottage façade is earmarked for a phase two project and even though the ever-popular Clara’s Cottage will still be a feature of the museum it will be re-vamped in a phase three operation.
The Museum will close for nearly two years and all contents will be packed then transported to storage at the Heritage Centre for the duration.
In paying tribute to the hard work of colleagues, Cllr John Crockford-Hawley, Chairman of the Museum Working Party, said: “It’s been a truly rewarding experience in which team effort has triumphed. Colleagues from across the political spectrum and officers from the Town Council and Somerset County Council have worked diligently and to commendable effect. It will be sad to see the Museum close for two years but rest assured there’ll be a magnificent ‘wow!’ factor on re-opening”.