SVA eyes first HQ to relieve pressure on busy museum

Dr Bob Symes with members of the Sid Vale Association outside their new HQ. Ref shs 1224-29-15TI. Pi

Dr Bob Symes with members of the Sid Vale Association outside their new HQ. Ref shs 1224-29-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Britain’s oldest civic society will finally gain an HQ for the first time in its 169-year history, after it launched an ‘urgent’ bid to relieve pressure at Sidmouth Museum.

The Sid Vale Association (SVA) has been without a base since it formed in 1846, but has now agreed to take on the two floors above Fore Street’s Trumps.

The exercise began with a search for a solution for Sidmouth Museum – now boasting 13,000 visitors every year and an ever-growing collection - as it is fast outgrowing Hope Cottage.

The SVA wants to improve the visitor experience at the museum, while creating a flagship HQ in Fore Street and a meeting space for its many groups.

Its volunteers also plan to develop a supervised research facility for the use of its archive of research documents, and a space to store its publications.

Space is currently so tight at the museum that three-quarters of the items in its collection are not currently on display.

SVA chairman Alan Darrant said: “For the last few years, we have been urgently seeking a solution to this problem.

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“In an ideal world, there would be a property available in the centre of town, large enough to house the museum and all its collection, with space enough on the ground floor to display all the exhibitions – and at a price that would be within our means.

“However, in the real world, we must seek more practical solutions, and we feel we have found the answer.”

An archive of back-copies of the Herald - best measured in tonnes - had to be moved to the ground floor of the museum as a precaution, but this has made research almost impossible and restricted space in the main exhibition area.

Stocks of the SVA’s publications and even some of the collection have to be stored off-site. Museum curator Dr Bob Symes OBE said: “This will be an essential and very welcome move for the museum.

“Our overall lack of storage and office space has held the museum back, but we can now look to the future and guarantee an even better cultural institution.

“This will make the museum an even more remarkable facility for our community and our all important visitors.”

The SVA manages the £2.3million Keith Owen Fund but how it can be spent is restricted, so the society will shortly be launching a public appeal.

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