Worthing Museum and Art Gallery aims for stunning redevelopment to “Let the Light in”. 

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery aims for stunning redevelopment to “Let the Light in”. 

A bold new £3.5m renovation plan to transform Worthing Museum and Art Gallery into a centre of excellence doubling the number of visitors within three years has been unveiled.

Striking new proposals to completely open up the building and “let the light pour in” will give the public access to the entire building and see many more artefacts on display.

Currently just 50 per cent of the building is accessible and only 5 per cent of the collection on display.

Worthing Borough Council’s Culture Department, which runs both the town’s theatres and the museum and art gallery, wants to double current visitor numbers to 120,000 by 2020.

The new plans by top architects Allies and Morrison were described as a “breath-taking transformation”.

Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for Customer Services Cllr Heather Mercer said, “I am completely knocked out by these proposals. They will transform the museum into a stunning space fit to be a jewel in the crown of our cultural offering.

“Our culture department has great plans to fill this new building with fantastic new displays and exhibitions not of course forgetting some of the most popular existing items.”

Chief among the proposals could see the museum become a national centre for costume research, as it currently holds one of the most significant collections in the UK with more than 30,000 items most of which are stored due to lack of display space.

Working alongside the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, GMET college in Worthing and Brighton University plans are to create a costume research library and collection attracting visitors and students from all over the country and abroad.

The project will unite two historic interiors of the building, the museum and the library, into a seamless light, bright and spacious gallery that will showcase its collections and significantly expand its education and research facilities.

The redevelopment will include a new café and greater retail space giving a more engaging visitor experience and the opportunity to develop new income streams.

Much of the conservation work on items in the collection currently undertaken behind closed doors will be shown to the public as it actually happens under the proposal.

Head of Culture Amanda O’Reilly said; “We’ve called this plan Letting in the Light because that is just what this exciting plan does. It opens up so much more of the museum and gallery enabling us to put more of our collections on display and with new learning rooms become a hub for cultural study and activity.

“We are particularly excited by the proposal for a centre of excellence for costume trading on our fantastic collection, the breadth and depth of which is sadly not currently appreciated.

“We will be able to work with today’s designers, fashion students, makers, TV researchers, and costume historians to add real value to the museum and make it a nationally significant cultural destination.”

The £3.5m cost of the development will be secured through applications to Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and the Clore Duffield Foundation as well as a strategic partnership with private and public funders. Worthing Borough Council is to pledge an additional £125k.

The scheme will create 50 new jobs during the project and protect 20 current jobs. In addition it is hoped the more than 2000 new learners will benefit from educational programmes created at the new museum and 24 apprenticeships created through its programme for schools and wider community.

In addition the scheme will help preserve and develop an iconic building in Worthing for the use of the people of the borough and across the country.

Paul Appleton partner of architects Allies and Morrison said; “The Worthing Museum and Gallery is a splendid Edwardian building which, in recent years, has hidden many of its interior charms behind layers of plasterboard. Its fabulous collection has never quite been matched by the spaces in which they are displayed.

“This project is about revealing the character of the building and, in doing so, making a museum which is impressive and simple to navigate on a first visit but rewards those who return again and again. 

A new garden entrance and courtyard cafe on Richmond Road will ensure that the museum takes its place, once again, as an important part of the cultural life of the town.”

A fundraising drive is now under way and then the scheme will be subject to the normal planning process.

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Questions and Answers with Gerry Connolly, senior curator at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery and Worthing Borough Council’s Head of Culture Amanda O’Reilly.

Q) So what is the thinking behind this scheme both in the redesign and the content changes you are making?

Gerry) So the concept is basically about opening up the museum, we’ve got this fantastic building which is loved by the local community, it’s been here for over 100 years, and a lot of it is just unseen and unused by the public. The idea is to open up the whole museum and let the light in, opening up windows that are currently blocked, skylights that are currently blocked and just turning the museum into something that the public can be proud of; a museum for the 21st century.

Q) How much will it cost the taxpayer? How will you fund it?

Amanda) We have developed a fundraising strategy for the project and are applying to Heritage Lottery Fund who have worked with us to develop the concept. In addition we are applying to the Clore Foundation for the development of the Education Room, the Arts Council for the digital components and further private foundations and funders. Worthing Borough Council will continue to fund the Museum over the course of the three year project and have initially committed a further 125K as match funding.

Q) How did you develop such a collection of costumes? What is the history of it?

Gerry)  We started collecting when the museum opened in 1908, the collection has always had costume in it, but in the late 1950s it was expanded by two volunteers, who put a request out to the local population to donate to the collection from which it expanded, for example we now currently estimate 300 items a year would be excessive, in the early 1960’s 61-62 we were accepting over 4000 items and most of that was costumes, so we have ended up with this amazing collection which contains about 30,000 items.

 

Q) What other collections currently hidden will you be able to show?

Gerry) I think all of the collections we have at the museum are currently on show, what isn’t on display is the vastness of it, we show a very small percentage, a lot of that is limited by space, some of it is limited by access to the current display cases. That will now change so we’ll be able to rotate the collection a lot more, but we will be able to show roughly 25-30% which would be nearly a 300% increase in the current amount we’re showing.

Q) What if you don’t get all the money you need?

Amanda) We are making multiple bids for funding and have very positive discussions with the key potential funders who are impressed by the quality and creativity of the project. Timing is particularly good as we have just employed an experienced External Funding Manager who has an impressive track record and has already developed a comprehensive funding strategy for the Museum Redevelopment project.

Q) Tell us one of your favourite exhibits/stories in the museum.

Gerry) I was researching the costume collection and I was very fortunate to get some funding from Esmée Fairbairn,  we had this amazing Polynesian dress from the 1760s that has been described as an altered dress, and after further research, we discovered that it is a maternity dress, which is a really rare item of maternity clothing from the second half of the 18th century.

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Gerry Connolly, senior curator at Worthing Museum gives us the stories behind five exhibits

Fragment of Embroidery

One of the most recent acquisitions to the museum collection is an amazing piece of fabric that’s currently on display in a case in our main gallery. It came into the museum and was almost discarded, the women who donated it found it in the back of  a chest of drawers she bought at an auction, and we after undertaking research on it, we believe it is from the early 1600’s. It’s a very ornate piece of embroidery, every time I look at it I see something different, and we’ve showed it alongside a jacket of the same time period as we believe this is the type of clothing that it would have belonged to.

Late 19th Century Hare and Hound Letter Stamp

The collections are so vast here that, although all of the collections are catalogued, there are items in it that we have not seen for quite some time, and in a recent work one of our volunteers was doing to redisplay our cases,  this amazing letter stamp for stamping wax to seal a letter was discovered and although we knew it was there, nobody had taken the time to really study the detail of it, and there’s this amazing carving of a hound catching a hare, although it is not very politically correct, the craftsmanship is incredible.

Mammoth Tusks – 1920

Another one of those forgotten items in the collection are these Mammoth Tusks, recently discovered in the stores in the museums, fully catalogued and we knew where they had come from, but none of the staff at the time knew they existed, until we found them while doing some inventory work. They’re a set of Mammoth Tusks that were fished up off the coast of worthing in 1920, which is quite incredible. They’ve been verified by the British Museum and they now take pride of place in our museum on display.

Training Corset – Late 1700s

This is another one of our objects that again, has been in our collections for quite a while, but we didn’t know what it was, and it has recently been rediscovered. It is a linen corset from the late 1700s, and it would have been a training corset for a child aged 3-4, so that they got used to wearing them, because most women did in that time period, from a man’s perspective it would be the equivalent of wearing a belt so women naturally wore corsets. The idea being that when you wore a corset in your adulthood, you started training and getting used to the feeling of a corset on your body from quite an early age.

Early 20th century floral evening dress

This is a really beautiful early 20th century evening dress, it is chiffon embroidered with cornflowers, it has never been displayed, the reason being that it needs some conservation work doing to it, we know it’s an important dress because of the chiffon which is a really fine silk. The embroidery is too heavy for it, and it is pulling it so we need to be really careful with it, but as part of the development plan for the museum,  we will look at those items in the collection that are really important pieces and we can focus on having those conserved and highlighting them in the collection, which will be a real transformation from where we’re at at the moment in terms of protecting the collections and the resilience going forward for future generations.