Renovating the Somerset Rural Life Museum
Somerset County Council in partnership with the South West Heritage Trust and the Somerset Building Preservation Trust has raised £2.4 million to refurbish the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which was in need of a revamp. Having been in existence since the 1970s, the museum hasn’t undergone any major refurbishment work since then – this project was established to improve access, create a Community Learning Space and Temporary Exhibition Space, update the visitor facilities and displays and conserve the historic buildings including the Abbey Barn, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The museum has remained closed throughout the construction phase, since March 2014, ensuring that the developments could be carried out without disruption to visitors and employees, as well as allowing the project to be finalised as quick as possible. The main contractor was Ken Biggs Contractors Ltd, with Architecton responsible for the architectural and design aspects.
Premier Construction caught up with Estelle Gilbert, Project Manager, to find out more information about the redevelopment. According to Estelle:
“We wanted to bring the museum up to 21st Century standards and make it more contemporary. The key elements of the project were to improve access for the public, update and refresh displays, conserve the buildings that the museum is within, create a dedicated Community Learning Space and Temporary Exhibitions Gallery – attracting more visitors and sustaining the museum for the future.
“Developments started onsite December 2014, and were completed at the end of February. However, the building work is just the first phase – following this we have 12 months of fit out, and that is when all of the galleries will be refurbished.
“The chief tasks were to improve the access to the building and to update the visitor facilities, which meant that a lift has been installed, new toilets facilities, shop and welcome area and café have been created and a new visitor route has been integrated around the museum. Displays will have similar themes but they are being updated so that they are more accessible for visitors. The displays will be brought up-to-date with some contemporary items and themes explored in the museum as well – and there will be exciting new features introduced that people haven’t seen before.
“Construction works have gone really well, but I think the main challenge was perhaps when we discovered some archaeology. The Community Learning Space had a problem with the back wall because it is a listed wall and it was leaning – so they had to stabilise the wall as part of the works taking place to create the Community Learning Space – that is when they discovered archaeology at the back of the wall.
“Following this the builders had to redesign the Community Learning Space as part of the building works; however the rest of the construction phase has gone smoothly.”
When asked what she thinks the project will mean to the community, Estelle replied:
“It will be a great new facility and visitor attraction for the town of Glastonbury. Access to the museum collections will be improved and the new Community Learning Space will enable a lively events programme for a range of audiences and can be used by community groups outside the museum opening hours. A new exciting programme of temporary exhibitions will be on offer in our new temporary exhibition gallery.”
The project’s main funders are Viridor Credits, Heritage Lottery Fund, Somerset County Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation.