Jen Powell steps down as Chairman
Jen Powell in the chair at our 25th Anniversary AGM (Photo Harry Wickens)
We would like to thank Mrs Jen Powell for her work on the committee for many years, most recently as our chairman. Ill health has sadly prevented her from continuing in this role. Nick Bale has replaced Jen as Chairman and Nikki Nelson-Smith has replaced Nick as Deputy Chairman.
Museum purchases new digital catalogue system paid for by the Friends
It has taken some time, but we are delighted that the Museum now has a specialised database system to catalogue and manage its collections. Called a Collections Management System (CMS), this replaces the rudimentary spread sheet system that was no longer compliant with Museum Accreditation standards. The system is called “Museum Index +” and is used by museums such as the British Museum, Garden Museum and the V&A.
The request that we should pay for this system was made in February 2019 and we agreed at our Annual General Meeting in May 2019 to use some of our funds to support this purchase. Whilst the eventual cost was more than originally expected, the majority of the committee felt that we should pay the initial purchase and set up costs of £17,550. The Borough Council will pay the annual costs of running the new system going forward. This is the first time for over 10 years that we have used our funds to purchase something for the museum, so this is a notable event. We will still have around £32,000 in funds after making this payment, so we have plenty of money to support the museum in other ways in the future.
Sarah Fairhurst, Collections Manager, has expressed her thanks to the Friends for this generous donation. She is very much looking forward to having the system up and running in the next few months, as it will make the job of managing the objects in the collection and dealing with enquiries from the public far easier.
Museum Development Project stopped - June 2020
At the start of the COVID pendemic, funders including the National Heritage Lottery Heritage Fund closed their funding to all new applicants in order to provide emergency relief for organisations at risk of bankruptcy. The Guildford Museum Development project was a casualty and Guildford Borough Council decided in June 2020 to stop work on this project. The enormous pressure on the Borough's reserves caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of external sources of funding forced them to review priorities.
Progress on the Museum Development Project - March 2020
Julia Holberry reported to the FoGM Committee at the beginning of March that:
I am pleased to say that we submitted the Round 1 application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund on Monday, asking them for £4m towards the new Museum project.
We will hear the outcome at the end of June, but they are likely to come back with a series of queries and possibly a visit before the decision-making committee.
The bid is very strong, but competition is extremely fierce now - be- cause they have less money - and it does depend what else is on the table at the time. We will just have to wait and see.
Important progress on Museum Development Project by Nick Bale - December 2019
The project has advanced in many respects since the last News Update in April 2019. One of the most significant is the fund raising strategy. This has now been defined more clearly:
Total project is still expected to cost approximately £18 million,
National Heritage Lottery Fund will be asked to contribute £4
million of this.
Guildford Borough Council have designated just under £7 million
to the project from Council funds.
In addition, the Council have agreed to underwrite the funding
gap of £7 million.
A private sector funding programme will aim to bridge all, or most,
of this funding gap. Private donations will be sought from three broad sectors;
Foundations supporting Heritage Projects
Wealthy individuals and corporate donors
A trust independent of the Council will be essential for private funding and this is in process of establishment.
The architecture and buildings plan has been slightly reduced in scope, but this retains all the essential elements:
There will be an entrance in the castle grounds into a new building
in what is now the garden at the back of the museum. Here there
will be a café, a shop and a new display gallery.
On the floors below there will be another new gallery, a temporary
exhibition gallery and space for activities.
There will be lift access to all floors of Castle Arch House from the
The new building will integrate or replace the 20th century
extensions to Castle Arch House. 4
One of the changes is to leave out the enclosure of the King’s Chamber from the development. These ruins close to the new museum entrance in the castle grounds are a scheduled monument and there is some doubt whether Historic England would grant approval for this modification.
It is now likely that the Victorian Schoolroom will be brought into the main museum as a core part of the services offered to the educational sector.
Celebrating the technology and games industries in the Guildford area will be one of the distinguishing features of the revamped museum. It is therefore significant that a Digital Strategy sets out plans for the museum to start a collection of digital items. This strategy also looks at what digital facilities the museum will need, having regard to long term usefulness for the museum and its visitors. It also covers essential but less eye-catching matters such as free customer WiFi and management of customer data.
A vibrant activity and exhibition programme is being developed as set out in the Activity Plan for the museum. This has a wide scope including public and community engagement, working with the University and other local organisations, use of volunteers and so on. This is an aspect of the project where we would like to be involved. To establish these new programmes, the Plan envisages employment of a team of three staff for an initial 3 year period. In addition, the new museum expects to provide opportunities for a further 60 volunteers in addition to the current 30 volunteers who support the museum at the moment (This figure excludes our Undercroft volunteers team).
Our Chair, Jen Powell and other representatives have attended the council meetings at which the museum project has been discussed to show our support. We were pleased to see universal support for the project from councillors on all sides.
It is wonderful to see the significant progress that has been made during 2019. Nevertheless, there are several critical challenges ahead, in particular obtaining funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF). The first stage “Expression of Interest” of the NHLF procedure is under way at the present time. All being well, NHLF will give the green light during 2020 so that a full funding application can be submitted in 2020. This is especially important as foundations and other private donors will only support projects that have been granted NHLF funding. Unfortunately, NHLF has lower funds available for Heritage projects than in the past as sales of lottery tickets have been in decline. Competition for their funds will be fierce. Whilst we have an excellent and exciting project, it is not certain that we will get this critical approval.
Progress on the Museum Development Project by Nick Bale - April 2019
Activity on the project to revamp the museum has increased significantly in the past twelve months. Guildford Borough Council have approved outline proposals which will transform the museum.
The architects have confirmed the main features of the structure much as anticipated in the previous report. The museum will have three levels :
There will be an entrance in the castle grounds into a new building in what is now the garden at the back of the museum. Here there will be a café and a shop and a new display gallery.
On the floors below there will be another new gallery, a temporary exhibition gallery and space for activities.
There will be lift access to all floors of Castle Arch House from the new building.
The new building will integrate or replace the 20th century extensions to Castle Arch House.
The origins and history of Guildford will be told in a series of galleries in Castle Arch House entitled “Living and Being in
- In addition, galleries in the new building will celebrate the clever people and engineers who have been notable figures locally and nationally. These galleries will be titled “Playing in Guildford” and “Working in Guildford”.
The business plan for the new museum is likewise an important milestone. For the first time, specialists have looked at future visitor numbers and costs of staffing and operating the greatly enlarged facility. The plan suggests that visitor numbers could increase to 67,500 in the first year of opening, over five times the number of visitors today.
All being well, the next steps will be :
To do a full costing of the project, including construction, fitting out, design and preparation of displays and so on.
To appoint a fundraiser, who will explore external funding
To make an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other external funders
The project team will also need to convince Historic England that the new construction will not adversely affect the ancient structures of the castle grounds and Castle Arch House.
Update on Guildford Museum development project: by Julia Holberry November 2018
As Friends of Guildford Museum you are key stakeholders in helping to transform Guildford Museum. This exciting project aims to create an updated and improved attraction for more people to enjoy, providing a strong link to the castle grounds, opening up and connecting these significant heritage sites.
I have been appointed as an external consultant to manage and help drive the project forward on behalf of the Council and wanted to give you an update.
During this phase of the project ideas for the contents of the new Museum are being developed, in consultation with interest groups. The Council has appointed three consultancies to help develop these ideas:
interpretative planners (ZMMA) to develop the display and exhibition contents
activity planners (Julia Holberry Associates), who will develop exciting new activity, events and workshop programmes
business planners (Fourth Street), who will examine the sustain- ability of the new Museum and propose possible new income generation streams.
The work is divided into four phases.
- Background research – where all the consultants familiarise themselves with the Museum, the collections and Guildford. This is now complete.
- Outline proposals – where the consultancies develop ideas for vision, interpretation, activities and business planning, based on consultation with stakeholders and interest groups. We aim to complete this by Christmas
- Detailed proposals–where the ideas are finalised, approved and appropriate reports produced.
- Guildford Borough Council approval – this is when the Council considers and decides how to proceed with the project, on the basis of all the work done and the potential capital and ongoing running costs.
I have already been consulting with your Chairman, Jen Powell, and one or two of your committee members and I look forward to working with the Friends in the coming months.
Museum development project progress report: by Nick Bale April 2018
The Museum Review Group presented two important papers on the development project to a committee of Borough Councillors on 9 April 2018. One reports progress on the architectural scheme and the other proposes a framework for enriching the permanent displays.
Architects ZMMA undertook a study to determine how much space would be needed for the new permanent displays (including a Lewis Carroll gallery), a gallery for changing exhibitions, plus a cafe, shop, toilets, spaces for public activities, as well as rooms for all the essential back of house services. They concluded that the new museum would need roughly twice the space of the existing museum.
Numerous options in and around the museum were considered but finally, it is proposed that the garden courtyard behind the museum will be the main space used for enlarging the buildings. A key feature is that the buildings will open into the castle grounds, and this will become the main entrance.
Historic England views this option as having the least damaging impact on the historic surroundings of the castle. Even so, Historic England considers that an extension of this size will be a challenge and the new space will need to be fully justified. Their views are important for the project,as they are the guardians of historic buildings, such as the castle and Castle Arch House under the planning laws.
The Council is working on collaborations with external groups such as Surrey Archaeological Society, Carollian Wonderland Trust (whose aim is to establish a Lewis Carroll centre in Britain) and Surrey Infantry Museum to boost the museum's appeal to a wider audience.
In addition to enlarging the museum, an activity and learning centre may be established in the castle grounds, in the empty house just behind the March Hare (after suitable modifications). The Victorian Schoolroom would be a key part of the new learning centre if this goes ahead.
Content and displays - "the interpretation plan"
Much work has been done in identifying the stories of Guildford and its surroundings, and fitting these into a framework of fifteen themes. To quote the consultants report "The proposed ... approach is rooted in the lives and stories of people who have lived and worked in and around Guildford". Furthermore, it is contemplated that a community of volunteers will work with the professional staff to devise and deliver the displays. If you are interested in using your time and talents to help, this will be great opportunity.
The boost in community engagement by the museum in the past 18 months is therefore particularly important, as is the recruitment of 34 new volunteers by the museum. Although the Your Stories Your Museum, which supported the interpretation work programmes finished in March 2018, there are plans to continue similar activities over the coming years.
Provided the Council agrees to the recommendations of the progress report, the intention is to finalize the conceptual design and business plans by the end of 2018. Based on this, fund raising will take place. All being well, construction of the scheme could be completed in Spring 2021.
Over the same period, plans and preparations for the permanent exhibits will need to be worked on. As a result, the next few years will see intensive activity by the museum Heritage Services staff.
Who will pay for it?
The Council has recently increased the funds earmarked to plan and deliver the new museum to £6.6 million, from just over £2.2 million two years ago. However, it is recognized that this will probably not be enough to achieve the intended scope of the project. External funding will be sought to achieve the target amount. The Museum Review group have prepared an outline fund-raising plan and a Council team has been formed to plan this aspect of the project.
Comments on the GBC Executive Advisory meeting
This meeting was specifically to discuss the museum reports. Jen Powell, our chairman attended as did representatives of Surrey Archaeological Society, Carollian Wonderland Trust, Surrey Infantry Museum and the Guildford Heritage Forum. All speakers were very much in favour of the development plan. Nevertheless, there are a few issues.
- Could the project be done quicker?
You may have seen articles or newsletters from the Guildford Heritage Forum suggesting that the Council has not been pushing ahead fast enough with the museum project. It is true that it has taken far longer to get where we are today than was estimated in April 2016, when the Council approved the last Museum Review Group report. However, this is a complex project, located in amongst significant protected buildings. Careful and thorough planning is not a waste of time. To quote Jen Powell, our chairman, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
- Should "creativity and innovation" themes take priority?
The report implies that celebrating creativity and innovation in Guildford should be given particular emphasis. We are concerned this could mean that important parts of our history would be downplayed. Creativity and innovation are important but these should not dominate the new displays.
Museum - grant success: by Jill Draper - Update October 2016
You may have heard the good news that Guildford Museum has secured a grant from Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund. A sum of nearly £85,000 is a significant award and the Your Stories, Your Museum project provides significant backing to the plans to transform the museum.
As you will know, Guildford Borough Council is now progressing development of the historic Castle site including joining the Museum with the Castle Grounds and building an extension to house new displays and facilities. This will be a once in several lifetimes’ opportunity to improve the Museum buildings. We, therefore, decided to focus our Museum Resilience Fund project on ways to improve the museum experience that is relevant to, particularly, the town, the borough and its community. We wanted to ensure it was complementary to the architectural scheme and would work with it to create a lively community museum for the 21st century.
Your Stories, Your Museum will concentrate on building closer links between the Museum and its community through research and practical projects. For example, we might partner with local businesses to explore the story of Guildford’s reputation as the Hollywood of the gaming industry and to build the museum’s collections in this area. We could also work with a group of local school children to help them curate their own display about Guildford past and present. We will also look at ways for the community to get involved in determining how we should present our displays and themes to cater for and interest a broad range of local people, particularly those who do not visit currently.
By end of March next year, we will have developed a programme of practical projects collecting ideas locally and using knowledge of similar projects undertaken by other museums with the help of specialist consultants. We will then implement these during 2017-18 and gather results to feed into plans for the new museum site and a refreshed museum service. The grant will also fund some additional staff hours, something much needed as the team will have to continue the day job of providing heritage services at our other sites, while working on this project. We will be busy!
We hope you will be as excited as we are about this grant and the opportunities it brings for the Museum. With this and the architectural plans, we are now looking to the future with optimism. We will update the Friends of Guildford Museum on progress of the museum development and the Museum Resilience project and ways you can get involved. In the meantime, we look forward to opportunities and challenges ahead with both schemes and a brighter future on the horizon!
The Future of Guildford Museum - Update April 2016
The Museum Review Group (MRG) established by Guildford Borough Council (the Council) has recently submitted its second report to the Executive Committee. Its recommendations were approved at the Executive meeting on Tuesday 19th April.
Key recommendations of the Report
The report is important and sets out some key recommendations, in particular that:-
- The MRG were unable to identify an appropriate alternative to the existing building. The plans for the museum renewal will therefore be based on the existing premises in Quarry Street
- Architects appointed by the Council, ZMMA, have suggested that there is potential to build a new extension at the back of the existing historic buildings. This could provide an exciting and modern exhibition space, with an entrance from the castle grounds, with modern facilities (café, toilets and good access).
- A Development Group will be established in the near future consisting of Council and external representatives. This will assist the delivery of improvements to the Museum. The Friends of Guildford Museum are identified as one of the external groups that should join the Development Group
- A fund raising strategy and related fundraising committee will be established to identify and secure external grants and funding for improvements to the museum
- An action plan was approved which includes:-
- o Immediate start to improve signage, displays and communications
- o Public consultation to ascertain priorities and views
- o Collections research and development for new displays
What does this mean for the Future of the Museum?
The report acknowledges that there is still a great deal of work to do.
- A full feasibility study and costing exercise needs to be carried out to determine the costs of the proposed new extension
- Whilst the Council have made a provisional allocation of funds of just over £2.2 million, this is still short of the estimated £2.5 million for the extension. Further funding will also be required for updating the existing historical buildings
- The Council are reaffirming that they would like to work together with Surrey Archaeological Society. However, the form and extent of the arrangements between the Council and Surrey Archaeological Society have not yet been agreed
- The MRG has not yet reviewed the Victorian Schoolroom on Castle Street. The extension of the Museum could provide an opportunity to integrate the schoolroom into the main building. This could allow the sale of the building on Castle Street, the proceeds from which could reduce the funding gap that needs to be filled
What are the views of your committee?
As our Chairman, Jen Powell said when she spoke at the Executive meeting, the Friends of the Museum fully support the developments envisaged in the Report. The proposed extension to the museum providing direct access to the Castle Grounds is, in our view, crucial in establishing the long-term viability of the museum. The museum can, as a result, become a cornerstone of the Guildford Heritage Quarter.
We will be delighted to assist the Council team deliver improvements to the Museum through the Development Advisory group. We are excited by the opportunities the museum renewal represents, although our long relationship also means that we are aware of some of the problems.
The Victorian Schoolroom is a matter that is of great interest to our association as the contents of the schoolroom were purchased with funds raised by the Friends. As well as providing a lively introduction to our past, such visits establish an acquaintance with the museum, which also benefits from the popularity of the shop with school children. This is a win-win experience for all concerned and the benefits need to be fully appreciated.
All parties acknowledge that the future arrangements with the Surrey Archaeological Society are a matter of fundamental importance to Guildford Museum. We would like the Society's most significant objects to be kept in the Museum's Collection on a permanent basis and would encourage the Council and Surrey Archaeological Society to do the utmost to achieve this objective.
What can the Friends do?
The Council and the Heritage team have a demanding list of priorities in the next few months:-
- Update the existing signage, displays and publicity.
- Establish the Development Advisory Group
- Undertake public consultation to ascertain priorities and views on the project
- Assemble a project management team, appoint a museum design team and external advisors.
- Establish a fundraising committee to develop strategy for fundraising and sponsorship.
- Negotiating a new long term agreement with the Surrey Archaeological Society
This will be a tall order, even assuming the additional funding approved by the Council Executive will allow the employment of staff to run the renewal project.
In addition to contributing our ideas through the Development Advisory Group and the Museum Review Group, are there ways our members can assist the museum over the next 12 months? Could you please offer your help by completing the Volunteer form and returning it to Nick Bale.
The Future of Guildford Museum - Update December 2015
The Museum Review Group established by Guildford Borough Council has recently submitted its initial report to the Executive Committee of the Council (see below). The next report is planned for March 2016.
Since our initial letter to our members on 17th August 2015, members of the committee have had three occasions to formally represent the Friends' views:-
Written submission to the Museum Review Group - September 3rd
Meeting with the Museum Review Group - October 26th
Meeting of the Executive of Guildford Borough Council - November 24th
FOGM submission to the Museum Review Group
The paper provided the Group with our analysis of the situation of the Museum as it is today, and with our observations on the key factors for its future. In brief, the main points we made were:-
- It would be feasible to attract significantly more people to the Museum if the exhibits were smartened up and if there were serious engagement in marketing. Statements reported in the press about visitor trends are misleading.
- The fundamental reason for the dilapidated state of the Museum is lack of resources: staff vacancies left unfilled, and lack of resources to change displays and put on special exhibitions.
- It is misleading to use the average cost per visitor as a measure of the value of the Museum when activities aimed at attracting visitors have been starved of resources.
- We have seen significant focus on visitor activities and audience building in the past 12 months.
- Failure to obtain HLF funding was not due to a defect in the application or process. Every effort was made by the Heritage team and GBC to achieve a successful outcome.
Key factors for the future
- A move to another building in central Guildford would take a long time. If the Museum were to continue in the existing buildings, improvements could start relatively soon.
- Such a plan would give time for a high profile campaign to raise money and support from businesses and the public.
- Re-establishing a reasonable working relationship with Surrey Archaeological Society would be necessary so that important artefacts would not be lost to Guildford.
- Castle Arch and adjoining buildings may not be viable for other uses without significant modifications.
Meeting with Museum Review Group
On 26th October, Jen Powell, our Chairman met the Museum Review Group to explain our views and answer questions. Whilst Heritage Manager, Jill Draper, is a member of the Review Group, other members are not familiar with recent history of Guildford Museum nor the particular issues for museums in general. This face to face discussion was valuable as it enabled our Chairman to clarify a number of questions from members of the Review Group on our paper and the issues for the future of the Museum.
Meeting of the Executive of Guildford Borough Council
The initial report of the Review Group acknowledges that “There has been little investment in the Museum for over 25 years and this has left it looking very tired and outdated. Visitor numbers are also low and costs are considered to represent poor value for money.” The failure of the Lottery Bid has created the need to look at the Museum with a view to improving it and making the service more cost effective.
Briefly the terms of reference of the Review Group are 1) to carry out a full review of the Museum and 2) to look at all options for future sites. It is still too early at this stage “to discuss any potential new sites but they will be fully assessed as part of the review. It has also been agreed to look at the feasibility of the current site and see if any affordable alterations can address the access issues and layout issues at that site”.
Councillor Geoff Davis leads the Museum Review Group. There are six other councillors: Caroline Reeves, Tony Phillips, David Reeve, Angela Gunning, David Elms and Mike Parsons. James Whiteman, Director of Environment, whose portfolio of responsibilities includes the Heritage Services, heads the council officers. James is joined by Heritage Services Manager, Jill Draper as well as others representing Legal, Communications, Accounts, Assets, HR and IT.
All group members have visited the Museum and understand the offering and the issues relating to the service and the site. One key feature of the meetings has been an invitation to representatives from relevant organisations or groups to come and speak to the Group. So far, the following speakers have attended:
- 10 September 2015 - Matthew Alexander, former Curator of Guildford Museum and Honorary Remembrancer and written note from Nicholas Bale/Jen Powell (Friends of Guildford Museum)
- 14 September 2015 – Doug Scott, Guildford Society & Paul Stevenson, member of the public
- 28 September 2015 – David Calow, SAS & Michael Cooke, Arts Council England
- 12 October – John Redpath, member of the public, Elaine Sansom, Museum Development Service & Gavin Morgan, Chair of the Heritage Forum
- 26 October 2015 – Jen Powell, Chairman of Friends of Guildford Museum
- Sue Sturgeon and James Whiteman also spoke to Marilyn Scott, Director from The Lightbox.
The Council has now also commissioned a consultant museum specialist to assist in the review. Stuart Davies Associates were appointed on 8 October 2015.
Nick Bale, our Vice-Chairman attended the meeting along with several members of your committee. Here is Nick Bale’s report of the meeting
Geoff Davies introduced the Review Group report:
- Although continuing the museum at Castle Arch has not been ruled out by the review group, they seem to consider that a move to a new location is likely to be a better option.
- Difficulty of access is a significant issue with the present buildings.
- They consider that Quarry Street is changing its character and this will continue as there are a number of planning applications under consideration, making the Museum less easy to locate. .
- If the Museum were to continue at Castle Arch, they would like as far as possible to open up access from the Castle Grounds, to create a glass enclosure around the Kings Chamber walls, and add a cafe and upgraded toilets.
- The aim is that the museum should be sustainable financially, and the current level of costs is considered high relative to the number of visitors.
- GBC and SAS legal advisors are working together to reach an agreement on storage of SAS items and loans of SAS items for display at the museum.
Nick spoke to the Executive as representative of FOGM
The Friends are an organisation who have supported the Museum for the past 20 years. Over that period we have felt a number of disappointments, in particular when the HLF applications were unsuccessful. We continue undaunted and we trust that this time tangible progress will be possible.
The Museum has what it takes to be a fantastic resource for schools, families, those interested in history and general visitors. It is an important repository of knowledge holding thousands of objects from Guildford and Surrey.
We support the main points of the review group, namely
- there is a resolve that there will continue to be a museum in Guildford
- options are open whether to continue in the present buildings or not.
We are keen to do all that we can to ensure that the review group process is successful so that Guildford will have an improved and renewed museum.
The Future of Guildford Museum - August 2015
On 17th August, we wrote to our members to express our views on the establishment of the Museum Review Group as follows:
Many of you will be aware that the Borough Council is reconsidering the position of Guildford Museum at Castle Arch and a working group has been established for this purpose. The key aim of the working group is to look at a new and improved museum and visitor experience. We understand that it is scheduled to report to the Council in November 2015.
We are delighted that the newly elected Council is moving quickly to decide on a future course of action. The museum is a vital component of Guildford's heritage and there is significant scope to enlarge and improve its contribution to the town's cultural life and attractions. This is something we have tried to encourage and support over the years.
We consider that the working group should keep all options open. They should seek information and opinions at an early stage from those who have a thorough understanding of the issues, including the Friends of Guildford Museum.
We are seriously concerned that the Council has badly handled the relationship with the Surrey Archaeological Society. This is a matter of special significance, as many items of importance in the Museum's Collections belong to the Society, not to the Borough Council. We are aware of the issues that have been outstanding for some years between the Council and the Society and we agree that these need to be resolved. We feel that a lot could be achieved by a frank discussion between the respective officers for the benefit of both organisations. The ill-considered notice terminating the lease should be set aside to allow the long term objective of maximising use of Guildford's heritage culture to be experienced by the local community and visitors.
The statement by Councillor Geoff Davies, Lead Councillor for Economic Development, who is responsible for Heritage and Tourism dated 5th August 2015 can be viewed here.
Subsequently, the Museum Review Group have invited us to contribute our views at one of their meetings.
More news and views on these developments is also available from other sources and groups;-