MERL Curator of Collections and Engagement, Isabel Hughes, brings us up to date with progress on the Our Country Lives project
Our project plans are developing quite quickly now and one of the challenges is to keep all our various stakeholders informed including our volunteers, neighbours and other interested parties in the University. Last week we held two sessions to update everyone on the how the project is developing. About 40 people attended and heard presentations from myself and Rob Davies, Volunteer Co-ordinator.
We were able to explain the broad rationale of the project – to create more space around the building in order to improve both the displays and visitor facilities.
Alongside the redisplay of the galleries there will be a full programme of activities to attract new and existing visitors to MERL.
Planning for closure is just as important as planning for the reopening of MERL. There are various important dates for us; 24 February 2014 is the submission date for our Heritage Lottery Fund. We shall hear the outcome some time in June or early July. If successful, that would give us 8 – 10 weeks to get ready for contractors arriving on site. We can’t guarantee an exact start date for construction work but we would aim to offer a full programme of activities over the summer and would close the Museum from about October 2014.
During the closure we would keep the Special Collections, including the reading room open to the public. We are thinking as well about events we might be able to offer as outreach around Reading. The main casualty of this phase is likely to be the garden which may be used for contractors’ huts and would definitely be out of bounds to visitors. We are planning to redesign the garden to reflect the themes of the redisplay, however.
There is a lot of work to do to plan for reopening which is likely to take place in late Summer 2015. We aim to offer an exciting set of launch events, underpinned by a revamped website and publicity materials.
At last week’s meetings our stakeholders seemed very positive about our plans and offered useful suggestions for enhancing things or forging new partnerships.
As you can imagine, the next couple of weeks before submitting our bid are going to be very busy for everyone at MERL, but we look forward to sharing more information over the coming months.