Museum unveils plan for grand expansion

EXCITING TIMES: Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough's House in Sudbury, has big plans for the future.
EXCITING TIMES: Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough's House in Sudbury, has big plans for the future.

Gainsborough’s House has outlined major expansion plans to turn the museum and gallery into a centre of national excellence.

The building, which is the birthplace and childhood home of artist Thomas Gainsborough, has been in need of additional space for some considerable time and, thanks to the backing of Babergh District Council, the Gainsborough Chambers –the property next door – has been purchased.

The chambers recently came on the market and the museum trustees decided the opportunity was too good to miss. The council stepped in to buy it and will lease the building to the museum while it raises funds to acquire it.

The extra space, which also includes a car park, three garages and old labour exchange, will be used to expand the gallery and provide more disabled parking spaces.

Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House, said the museum was in serious need of development if it is to survive as a tourist attraction.

“The acquisition and development of Gainsborough Chambers, car park and garages in Weaver’s Lane is crucial to the strategic plan for Gainsborough’s House to achieve sustainability and resilience,” he said.

“The plan is based on growth to allow enough space for income generation and to better deliver our mission.”

Mr Bills, who took up his role at the museum a year ago, said although the house attracted 20,000 visitors last year, he wanted to double that number by establishing it as a national gallery.

“Gainsborough’s House is at a very exciting point in its history and has the possibility of embarking upon a major capital project to create a vibrant, innovative national centre that is sustainable and forward-looking,” he added.

“It has a house and collections of international significance and the opportunity of being a great force for regeneration in Sudbury.”

Proposals to create space for future exhibits, a cafe and visitors centre are currently being explored in preparation for when money has been raised to buy the chambers outright.

It is hoped the work will allow the gallery to attract loans from national collections and display larger exhibitions.

Simon Barrett, Babergh district council’s lead member for economy, said he believed the help given to the gallery, which would not cost the authority or taxpayers any money, would provide long-term security for the “key town centre and national asset”.

“This totally supports our aim to ensure Sudbury is an accessible, sustainable, vibrant centre and communities use their capacity and assets to be more self-sufficient, self-reliant and independent,” he said.

Chris Storey, chairman of Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion was likely to boost tourism in the area.

“The Chamber of Commerce has been aware of the importance and potential of Gainsborough’s House to Sudbury and its potential to add value to the town by both drawing visitors from the local area to what will become an increasing attraction situated in the heart of the town as well as drawing tourists and visitors to the town,” said Mr Storey.

“We welcome and applaud the actions of the district council and the planning of Gainsborough’s House in allowing their vision to be communicated clearly and to prompt this action to safeguard this site for a key role in Sudbury’s future.”