A museum of rural life that is itself stuck in the past is desperate for community support to keep its treasures on display.
The great 14th century Abbey Barn at Glastonbury – itself a scheduled ancient monument – that lies at the heart of the Somerset Rural Life Museum has not undergone any major work for 40 years and is becoming increasingly out-dated.
Custodians are keen to point out they do not wish to lose the barn’s charm, but simply carry out works such as opening the many galleries – some of which are inaccessible to wheelchairs or child buggies – so that more people can enjoy the museum.
Public consultation shows people would like the museum to tell more stories of the past, but many of the exhibitions are not displayed or interpreted in ways that meet modern expectations, despite the museum’s archives holding a wealth of material on the fascinating history of the county and rural life in general.
The exhibits attract 300,000 people of all ages from all over the UK each year. The museum is especially popular with school groups and families, but there is no dedicated indoor space for learning.
Somerset Heritage Service, part of Somerset County Council, is applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other external backers to redevelop the museum.
The fund has already agreed outline plans, with detailed proposals due to be submitted in January next year. But SHS needs to show that it has community support to win the Lottery aid.
So heritage leaders are running a community support campaign, visiting schools, businesses and other community areas to raise the profile of the bid and create a lasting legacy. They have also created a community banner, on which people can show support simply through signing their name. Three hundred people have signed so far.
Among other plans, heritage bosses have pledged to maintain the barn in its present state, but improve its setting to make it more accessible and more suitable for activities and events; create a dedicated indoor learning and activity space, more exhibition space and lifts between the various areas of the museum site.
A spokesman said: “First and foremost, we want the museum to continue to tell the rich story of Somerset’s rural and social history. We also want to improve physical and intellectual access to the museum and its collections, provide a dedicated space for learning and community activities, and improve our visitor facilities.
“The Somerset Rural Life Museum has a special charm which we do not want to lose. Our redevelopment plans will be sympathetic to the existing fabric and will build on what people tell us is important to them about the museum.”