Fringe Box



Heritage Forum Creator Reports on His Council Encounters

Published on: 17 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 18 Oct, 2015

Gavin Morgan Inset MuseumGuildford Borough Council (GBC) is currently reviewing the future of Guildford Museum. Gavin Morgan set up the Guildford Heritage Forum to allow anyone who is interested to join in the debate.

Last week Gavin spoke to all the councillors at the full council meeting and this week he spoke to the museum review group. We asked him how he got on…

Why did you speak to the full council?

We all need to work together on the future of the museum. It was a good opportunity to show my face and meet councillors. It was also a chance to ask for clarification on the council’s broad intentions.

Gavin Morgan addressing the fullGuildford Borough Council meeting.

Gavin Morgan addressing the full Guildford Borough Council meeting.

Did you get clarity?

Yes I did. I made the point that the handling of the Surrey Archaeological Society has fuelled scepticism that the council just want to sell of the Quarry Street site to plug a budget hole.

The council leader, Stephen Mansbridge, explained that the vision is to have “a visitor centre” incorporating a museum which looks at past, present and future and will probably be in a new location which is either purpose built or using an existing location.

So it is not to get rid of the museum, at all. “I would like allay your fears,” he said. “This is not about plugging gaps. This is about doing the right thing and actually making something which isn’t that good much, much better.”

Did he allay your fears?

I definitely came away thinking that the council is serious about doing something with our heritage and I fully understand the challenges of the existing site.

This was reinforced when I attended the museum review group. I was impressed by just how many people are involved with the group and it was fascinating to get a glimpse of how the review group goes about its business.

There were about 25 people in the meeting from various GBC departments including finance, legal, heritage and property as well as councillors from all parties. The review has been looking at various sites including the existing one and we will all get a chance to look at their ideas when their review is published in late November.

We have come a long way since July when I think a lot of people thought this might be the end for the museum. The review group were keen for me to take away the message that they all support our heritage. We have to understand that there are a number of options and finding the best solution will take time.

What was your message to the borough council?

I wanted to show that we are keen to work with them and stressed that we have the chance to do something exciting in our town.

Virtually everyone I talk to in the town loves its historic character and I wanted to make the point that heritage is not just of interest to tourists or history enthusiasts; it makes our town what it is.

We promote our town through heritage, it helps create an environment that attracts people and businesses. We have to see the whole museum project in this context.

How would you rate your experience of seeing the council in action?

Attending the council meeting, the museum review and meeting councillors has been an invaluable experience. People are often sceptical about “the council” but we are all part of one community and we are lucky to have people who take on the responsibility of running our town.

They are our representatives and need to listen but at the same time they deserve our support and we need to keep talking to them. I would recommend everyone to attend at least one council meeting. For me the issue of the museum is an opportunity to see for sure how the council handles issues and how much it listens.

I believe the report will be a good piece of work but I will wait until I see it and how the council responds to the public consultation before giving my final verdict.

End of interview

You can watch the entire council meeting and Gavin’s address on the council webcast. Gavin’s address and Stephen Mansbridge’s reply are near the beginning (item 6)

A transcription of Gavin Morgan’s statement to council meeting on October 7th 2014 and Cllr Mansbridge’s response follows,

Gavin Morgan’s address:

My name is Gavin Morgan. I have come to talk about the review into Guildford Museum.

First, I want to thank you for trying to do something with the museum. I have come here: to meet you, to encourage you to get behind the museum and tell you what people are thinking.

A bit about me. I grew up in Guildford, worked as a student at Guildford Museum with Matthew Alexander, and spent 12 years at the Museum of London. I now work for companies like BP and Unilever.

I formed the Guildford Heritage Forum to encourage a positive public debate about the museum.

We are not a pressure group. The forum aims to bring people together. All our newsletters are on our site and you are welcome to join the mailing list.

People have made some great comments on the site, a few moans, but generally good ideas.

Everyone I speak to loves our town and its heritage and thinks it would be bizzare for us not to have a proper museum.

And by a museum they don’t mean just a set of displays. It should work with the community and bring people together. Our heritage is something we all share and we should celebrate it through exhibitions, lectures, publications, events, re-enactments, even community theatre.

Museums need funding of course but great museums run on enthusiasm and imagination.

Unfortunately, the handling of the Surrey Archaeological Society has fuelled scepticism that you just want to sell off the Quarry Street site to plug a budget hole. I talk to lots of people and I don’t believe that but I would love to be able to reassure people.

If we could work together then I think a bit of clarification would allow us all to move to a happier place.

The museum review group is looking into locations and costings for the future and the public must wait for its conclusions. But if we have to stay in Quarry Street we can still have a great museum.

400,00 people visit these gardens each year. 10,000 pay to go up the castle.

If we can link the castle grounds to the museum, update the displays and put a café then we will really enhance the tourist experience in the castle grounds and everyone I speak to loves this concept.

Just over a century ago your predecessors did something special. Out of civic pride they bought the castle, laid out the Castle Grounds and joined forces with the Surrey Archaeological Society to found a museum.

The Victorian’s gave us a legacy which has defined our town for the last century. It is used in tourism publicity and has won us awards. We have the privilege of carrying that legacy forward. This has the opportunity to be a great good news story, something all of us can enjoy doing together.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge’s response:

I think one needs to look at what we tried to do with the museum with the National Lottery bids. We took a view, at that point in time, that unless the museum could effectively face into the Castle Grounds it was not going to receive the popularity that it deserved.

And so lesser bids than we were going for would look cheaper, which is why we have not pursued smaller bids.

We need something quite substantial to build the glass structures… and we were planning to do that. That having not succeeded, it made us focus our minds [and ask] what is it … is the building a proper place for the museum? And that’s where we are today.

And while this is very early days and really this has come to light because of the fact that the lease involving the archaeological society which should have been enforced seven years ago, and wasn’t, is now being enforced, quite properly, because there is no decent commercial arrangement and there needs to be one, there needs to be a commercial arrangement about the keeping of their equipment in the depot.

So we need to get on proper terms with the Archaeological Society. Where we go with it needs to go through the council’s processes the reports to scrutiny, public consultation, very much with the stakeholder groups, which is essential, but the aim is to have a visitor centre which looks at past, present and future and probably at a new location, either purpose built or is using an existing building, and and will really make a huge amount of what this should be for Guildford.

So it’s not to “get rid of the museum” at all.

And secondly it is to offer the SAS the ability to occupy as much of the old museum building as they would like and my vision would be for them to be the Surrey or regional archaeological centre which I think could celebrate archaeology in the region as opposed to just in Surrey or Guildford.

That’s the decision that is now in mind and there needs to be lots of discussions about it. This is not about budget or plugging the gaps, this is about doing the right thing. And actually making something that isn’t that good much, much better.

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Responses to Heritage Forum Creator Reports on His Council Encounters

  1. Roslyn McMillan Reply

    October 18, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Cllr Mansbridge said: “…a commercial arrangement about the keeping of their [the Surrey Archaeological Society’s] equipment at the depot.”

    Is Stephen Mansbridge really talking about the excavated artefacts that are displayed in the museum and the resource materials painstakingly collected over a century?

    Perhaps it is time to admit that it was a terrible blunder to kick the society out of the building before any proper consideration was given to the museum’s future.

    Maybe the National Lottery bids might have had a better chance of success if the archaeological society had been more involved? What about now harnessing the support of the people for developing the museum into the castle precincts by seeking public subscriptions since this is really a money issue in spite of the Councillor’s assertion that it is “not about budget or plugging the gaps.”

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