Plans for �3.5m New Towns Museum in Stevenage

A multi-million pound museum for Stevenage and surrounding new towns is the goal of politicians at the borough council.

On Tuesday night councillors met to discuss and approve the recommendations of a report into the state of museum provision in the town – with a New Towns Museum high on the agenda.

The report by a council scrutiny committee highlighted problems in the current museum service – housed in the crypt of St Andrew and St George’s Church, which suffered cuts to staff and opening hours in 2010.

Visitor numbers to the museum have fallen by almost half since then, and visitors to its internet service have fallen by almost three quarters.

Members said museum staff were still providing an excellent service within their constraints, but were concerned about the long-term impact on the service and morale.

The need for greater publicity, website improvements, more school visits, and a better visitor experience were all cited in the report.

The lease on the museum space from the Church of England runs out in six years, raising the question of a possible new future site for it.

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A �100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been secured by the council to begin a new towns history project which it will roll out in the new year. This will include employing a heritage specialist and collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire as well as a digital version of the blue plaque scheme using QR code technology to download information to mobile phones at historic points around the town.

The authority hopes this project will lead to a much bigger grant being given by the lottery fund for a new museum in the town representing not just Stevenage, but the new town movement in general. The authority said it will need 95 per cent of the estimated �3.5m necessary for the project.

Officers are undertaking a feasibility study into “four or five” potential sites, with members keen to keep the museum close to Town Centre Gardens.

Aidan Sanderson, head of leisure services at the council, said it was a “germ of an idea” at the moment, but something the authority very much wants to achieve.

“The �100,000 new town project creates a pathway to put in an application for a museum,” he said. “It will come down to money – there are a lot of competing parties.”

The children, young people, culture, sport and leisure development and scrutiny committee forwarded its concerns about the current museum service to the various council departments to be addressed by officers. They must respond within two months.