Sunday, November 22, 2015

To Swindon Borough Council with love - and free of charge!

Today is quite possibly your last chance to have your say about the future of Lydiard House and Park. The second of two public engagement days takes place in the Visitor Centre, Lydiard Park from 9.30 am to 3.30 pm. 

Feel free to print off this list.

Swindon Borough Council have appointed independent property advisor Bilfinger GVA to identify joint venture partners. Meanwhile adverts have been placed in trade journals and newspapers to invite organisations to submit proposals to help make Lydiard House and Park more sustainable and to reduce the local authority's £450,000 annual subsidy.

These are my ideas, arrived at with the help of the people of Swindon, who were gifted the property in 1943 when a visionary, philanthropic Swindon Corporation bought the Lydiard Park estate.

The list just keeps on growing!

Lydiard House
Unique selling point – scandal

Tell the story of the St John family
The links with the Tudors (perennially popular with children and adults alike)
The Civil War story
The Royal favourites and mistresses
The cheating husbands and wives
Henry, 1st Viscount St John - murderer
Henry, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke – Queen Anne’s Secretary at War – traitor
Links with the modern Royal Family

Every period of history is accessible through the House and the St John family

Improve PR and marketing:
Ask the National Trust and Historic England (Head Offices in Swindon) to advise – there are teams available to do just that.
Work with St Mary’s Church who are doing a fantastic PR job with guided tours and talks – visitor numbers have increased.
Use local people to improve marketing and PR
Encourage and value volunteers - give them responsibility and listen to their ideas.
Host interest appropriate TV programmes e.g. Antiques Roadshow, Flog It etc
Motorway sign – informs people on the lucrative, history rich, West Country heritage trail that we are here.
Explore avenues of grants and funding.
Have a look at other Council run properties and see how they are making a success of things e.g. Blaise Castle

Lydiard House:
Open the front door again – a frequent complaint is that visitors think the house is closed.
Introduce modern interactive displays.
Introduce audio tour.
The story of the St Johns/the House/the restoration etc - told on film. This could also be sold as a DVD in the gift shop and used in marketing and PR – see local firm SwindonWeb...
Exhibitions: The costumes from the hugely popular Wolf Hall series recently went on tour. Why didn’t they come to Lydiard House?
Art exhibitions – seldom seen paintings from Swindon’s Modern Art Collection.
Photographic exhibitions – from the Lydiard House archives; Swindon Museum; STEAM; Local Studies and local history groups such as The Swindon Society, Rodbourne Community History Group etc.
A great place to display our statue of Charlotte Corday, currently hidden away in the former Town Hall, Regent Circus.
Film nights: Interest appropriate e.g. Duchess – the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (there is a link to Lydiard House); Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice etc; TV blockbusters – Downtown Abbey, the White Queen, The Tudors, Wolf Hall – the list is endless.
Talks and book signings: The historical/romantic novel reading public is huge - invite authors to give talks and book signings; ask Philippa Gregory author of numerous books on the Tudors and the Cousins War - her White Queen series has direct links with the Beauchamp/Tudor and St John families (see St Mary’s Church)
A Regency Reading Group - From Jane Austen to Nicola Cornick - for anyone who loves Regency reads. Locally based Nicola might even join the group from time to time.
Bridge tournaments - in 2012 the Swindon Bridge Society raised £1,200 which they donated to Lydiard House.
Fashion show and photo shoot on Grand Staircase - who remembers this event. 

Improve and develop the gift shop:
I recently accompanied a group of American visitors and they couldn’t find enough items to buy!
Sell a variety of souvenirs at both ends of the market – expensive items, e.g. porcelain to tie in with Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and how he spent the family fortune – pocket money gifts, Lydiard House fridge magnets, Lydiard House bookmarks etc
Sell items associated with the modern Royal Family – books, images of Diana, Princess of Wales – link with Lady Diana Spencer who became Viscountess Bolingbroke; Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; the love story, the wedding; Prince George and Princess Charlotte. William and Kate mugs, Lydiard House mugs.
Sell books by historical novelists such as Philippa Gregory and others
Sell DVDs

Parkland/Seasonal activities:
Cream teas: - either on the front lawn or in the walled area between House and Church
Pony & trap ride around the Park’s restored home circuit and outer areas of the estate. To provide this investigate local farmers. 
Historical re-enactors: The Woodvilles have made several visits to Lydiard Park in the past and were extremely popular. Their activities were centred on the Park (where they set up camp) and the walled garden (where they gave a display of archery). I would suggest in future they give some of their talks in the House and Church.
And while we're at it let's big up the Tudor cousins at Lydiard House with a Tudor themed day - jousting on the front lawn, Tudor fast food for sale in the stable block, Tudor toys for the children to try, Tudor music in the walled garden.
Sealed Knot - one of two main civil war re-enactment organisations - Sir John St John 1st Baronet lost three sons fighting on the Royalist side. His two youngest sons fought on the Parliamentarian side and survived.
1940s re-enactors - there was an American Hospital/Prisoner of War Camp at Lydiard Park. Recent Auto & Retro Festival was extremely successful but could have linked to the history of the House and brought in visitors.
Rare Breeds Show - who remembers these, once held regularly and well attended.
Caravan Club - members parked on the event fields behind the play park, good income generating event.
Robin Reliant Owners Club - another popular, income generating event.
Morris Minor Owners Club - and yet another popular income generating event.
Kite Festival on the events fields
Hot air balloon festival on the events fields.
Continue and expand Christmas activities in the House – e.g. carols, bell ringers etc apparently sadly not happening Christmas 2015.
Re-introduce for Christmas 2016  using the whole site - Father Christmas storytime in Grand Hall
Christmas Craft Fayre.
Christmas grotto
Mulled wine and mince pies in the Grand Hall.
Antique Fair
Farmers' Markets - and while we're at it why not convert part of the Visitor Centre into a Farm Shop?
A land train visiting all areas of the Parkland - Coate Water and the Outlet Village both have them.
Reintroduce colour coded parkland walks with wildlife information

Walled Garden
Art in the Garden – Sculpture, ceramics etc display by local artists.
Love Lydiard Craft Fayre – with costumed re-enactors – first event held 2015 was very successful – needs developing.
Guided walks and talks.

Classroom & stable block courtyard
Hands on experience of rural crafts – woodturning, lacemaking etc
Soft play area for pre-school children.
Hire accommodation out for children's parties.

Conference Centre:
How can the Council use the Conference Centre if the Chartridge contract, now in abeyance, is unlikely to be renewed?
Behind the scenes tour:  American visitors received a tour around the upper rooms and they were fascinated.
Restore upper storey rooms for viewing - recreate a kitchen and a nursery. Investigate the Avebury Manor (National Trust) model – see reviews on
Open a restaurant – a pre requisite for every stately home and historic attraction - how – consult thriving, local businesses.
Negotiate contracts for services rather than lease to partners and lose control.
Make the historic house and picturesque setting the Swindon wedding venue.
Residential photography and art courses. Art and heritage are a fabulous mix.

Introduce car parking charges – this may not be the most popular of suggestions but any new ‘partner' would suggest and implement this immediately.
Add a small charge to the Council Tax bill.
Search out towns with historic buildings threatened by privatisation – maybe we could share ideas, experiences, solutions …

And finally – Dear Swindon Borough Council – please look at our list.
How's that to be going on with?

Sadly SBC pays lip service to the opinions of local people, but never involves us in decision making. Why not use local expertise and stop calling in expensive, cash guzzling, external organisations.

Important notice:

The Red Queen panel on the St John polyptych

Philippa Gregory

Charlotte Corday

Blaise Castle picture room

Nicola Cornick

Sophie Cummings and Katarina McGaren-Groves pictured in 2012

A Tudor joust

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