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 is today unveiled.
Striking new proposals to completely open up the building and let “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.
Today the new plans by top architects Allies and Morrison were described as a “breathtaking 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.