renaissance: St Albans FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What will the new museum and gallery offer ?

  • It will provide a new opportunity to inspire passion for: learning, discovery, art and history.
  • A state of the art contemporary public space, at the heart of the city, for culture lovers, historians, businesses and many more to hold world class events and private viewings.
  • Inspirational learning spaces for schools, colleges and community groups.
  • Enable the St Albans story and its exceptional importance to national heritage to be properly told, ensuring residents and visitors can share, and take pride in, the history of the city.
  • A new art gallery equipped to host exhibitions of national and international importance.
  • A journey of learning that starts in the building but continues on, signposting people out into the mediaeval streetscape and to the other key heritage sites across the city.
  • Increase visitor numbers from an annual average of circa 15,000 (current visitor numbers at the Museum of St Albans(MoStA)) to over a 200,000, impacting massively on the tourist economy.
  • Restore a Grade II* listed building to its former glory providing a flagship heritage building for St Albans.

What are the timescales?

  • The Round 2 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was successful, giving a further boost of £2.5 million to the project.
  • We plan to start construction work in Autumn 2016.
  • The museum and gallery is expected to open in Spring 2018.

How much will it cost?

The total cost of the new Museum and Gallery project is £7.75 million.

The costs seem very expensive for a cultural feature in St Albans

  • St Albans is a wonderful city with a rich cultural and historic heritage that deserves to be celebrated using our iconic Grade II* listed building in the heart of the city.
  • Costs include refurbishment of an important and significant Grade II* listed building, construction of glazed galleries at first floor level to increase space and improve circulation, construction of a new basement gallery, and installation of an accessible lift for all floors.
  • Costs include activity costs (inc. new staffing for up to 3 years) for public programmes over the development and implementation stages and provision of quality interpretation and displays.
  • All project costs are being scrutinised throughout the development and implementation stages to ensure value for money is being achieved.
  • A thorough business plan is being created during the development phase to ensure the future sustainability of the project.

Who will pay for it?

  • In recognition of the importance and value of this project the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded the project £2.5 million in addition to their Round 1 grant of £282,000 for the development phase.
  • St Albans City and District Council have pledged £3.25 million. The Council will redevelop the site of the Museum of St Albans for housing. The proceeds from this development will provide capital to enable development of the new museum and art gallery at the Town Hall.
  • The Trust is fundraising £1.7 million through grants from Trust and Foundations, big gifts from Major Donors, local business support and a community campaign.
  • The Council is a committed partner for the campaign, and will secure funding from the disposal of the current site on Hatfield Road and a commitment to continue subsidising the Museum Service and provide necessary maintenance resources for the building.
  • The St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust, the University of Hertfordshire and St Albans Museums have formed a dynamic partnership to meet this exciting but demanding fundraising goal.

Why can’t the local authority just pay for the project?

  • At £3.25 m the Council have pledged a significant capital sum to support the project. In addition, the council will continue to provide funding for the new museum and art gallery to operate alongside our other museum sites.
  • The Council will redevelop the site of the Museum of St Albans for housing. The proceeds from this development will provide capital to enable development of the new museum and art gallery at the Town Hall.
  • The Council cannot meet all project costs due to competing demands on Council budgets, and needs help from the local community, businesses and other funding bodies to fund the project.
  • While the Council do make a significant contribution to the operation of our museum sites these services are not just ‘local authority’ funded services. The contemporary art programme is funded by the University of Hertfordshire.
  • A new museum and gallery in the Town Hall that meets the needs of the audiences of the day will help the museum service to be more financially viable and to do more with the funding they receive from the Council.

Why is the Museum being moved?

  • The former Museum of St Albans:
    was in urgent need of significant refurbishment;
    could never be compliant with the 2010 Equality Act; and
    offered very poor value for money for current subsidy level.
  • The Council and stakeholders tried to revive fortunes of MoStA at Hatfield Road site for a decade but were unable to reverse the decline in visitor numbers.
  • The site did not lend itself to maximising visitor numbers and so it was difficult to make an argument to funding partners to invest in improving the existing building.
  • The continuing decline in visitor numbers will lead to the loss of a museum in the city unless an alternative can be found.
  • The central location of the Town Hall offers the highest footfall in the city at approximately 4.2m people pa. A new museum and gallery in this location with a dynamic programme could attract more than 200,000 visits pa. This would be a significant improvement in value for money for the Council and other funding partners.
  • Consultations have consistently shown people, including local residents do not know how to find MoStA, or even know of its existence;
  • Community consultations have revealed a desire to create a museum and art gallery in a more central city location.

 Are you going to use the building for educational purposes?

  • The Town Hall building offers substantial benefits to education – more flexible space and improved, education and community facilities will be available.
  • The courtroom and cells can already be used for education sessions, and usage will be expanded much further if the building is the new home for the Museum of St Albans.
  • The current potential for education is under-utilised. The project will also interpret the history of the building.
  • The project offers an opportunity for quality touring exhibitions enhancing educational benefits.
  • Gallery provision will offer increased opportunities for artistic education and exploration.
  • Proximity to other cultural facilities in the city centre, will see the building as a ‘stepping stone’ or ‘launching point’ for visitors to other heritage assets in St Albans and District.

Where will we be able to park?

  • City centre car parks will be the primary parking available.
  • The new museum and gallery will not have any dedicated parking spaces nearby, except for temporary loading bays and coach drop-off points.

How will the new museum and gallery involve local communities?

  • The community will be involved in the development of design, content and branding.
  • Stakeholder engagement groups and an Advisory Group have already been set up to consider fundraising, business planning, interpretation and collections.
  • 4.2m people pass the Town Hall entrance per annum and currently 100,000 people visit the Tourist Information Centre, these people will also be able to access and enjoy the heritage and contemporary art programme in the new venue.
  • The project offers an opportunity for quality touring exhibitions of international and national significance enhancing community benefits.
  • Gallery provision can secure a future for contemporary art exhibitions in the local community.
  • Through the St Albans Museums’ community engagement programme a broader audience will be developed and encouraged to participate in exhibitions and events.

What will you put in the new museum and art gallery?

  • All decisions on the content of the new museum and art gallery will be informed by an extensive consultation process, which will also involve St Albans Museums, Tourist Information Centre and University of Hertfordshire staff.
  • No decisions have been taken about the exact nature or spatial allocation of display content in the new museum and art gallery.
  • Museums are moving away from rigid fixed displays that cannot be refreshed. Our plan is to create a museum and art gallery that has flexible spaces allowing a programme of changing exhibitions which will encourage repeat visits.
  • One of the wonderful aspects of the flexibility of the project is the opportunity to house exciting temporary exhibitions, encouraging people to return.
  • Stakeholder engagement groups and an Advisory Group have already been set up to consider fundraising, business planning, interpretation and collections.
  • The building will have a ‘core story’ for St Albans and District, temporary exhibitions derived from a combination of a programme of community and touring displays, education space and a contemporary art gallery.
  • Entrance visitors services will include a reception, Tourist Information Service, shop and a café.
  • Opportunities for private hire, functions and commercial opportunities are being scrutinised in the development process, informed by public consultation and value for money assessments.

The Town Hall seems a bit small. How are you going to fit it all in?

  • Decisions are being taken about the exact nature and spatial allocation of display content in the new museum and art gallery through extensive analysis of options with a range of experts, stakeholders and interested parties.
  • New technology and interpretive principles will limit the need for permanent displays, providing flexible spaces for multiple uses.
  • Museums are moving away from rigid fixed displays that cannot be refreshed. Our plan is to create a museum and art gallery that has flexible spaces allowing a programme of changing exhibitions which will encourage repeat visits.
  • The project will include a newly constructed basement beneath existing structure, providing a substantial increase in the usable public space.

Will people be able to see the Courtroom and cells?

  • We expect visitors will be able to visit the Courtroom and cells.
  • Due to accessibility issues, visits may run as guided tours to safely interpret these spaces.
  • School groups already take part in education sessions in the Courtroom, and an adapted programme is likely to remain when the new museum and art gallery opens.
  • Different uses of the Courtroom space are being explored as part of the development phase. These are all subject to business planning outcomes and funding provision. It is currently intended to keep the Courtroom broadly as it is and use this space flexibly for learning, temporary exhibitions and different commercial opportunities. Potential for private hire and functions are also being explored.

Will there be a cafe/shop/tourist information centre?

  • Entrance services are expected to include a reception, visitor information service, shop and café.
  • The Council are undertaking detailed business planning analysis during the development phase to identify the commercial opportunities available to ensure the facility is financially sustainable.
  • Providing these services will maximise the benefits to visitors to the building, and provide an opportunity to encourage visits and repeat visits to the museum and gallery.

How are you going to protect the architecture of the Town Hall building?

  • The building is a Grade II* listed building and the team is working with professional advice from Historic England to ensure its continued protection.
  • The Council have committed significant maintenance resources to improve the fabric of the building.
  • Works on the lift shaft will be carried out sensitively to protect the heritage of the building;
  • The excavation techniques employed for the basement construction will be specifically commissioned to protect any archaeology beneath the building and preserve the architectural integrity of the structure.
  • The Council undertook a Condition Survey on the Town Hall in 2012 to record the current state of the structure.
  • John McAslan + Partners have been appointed architects and conservation architects for the project. They have extensive experience of transforming heritage buildings for new use.
  • We will appoint accredited contractors with a track record of quality work on heritage buildings during the delivery phase.

What are you going to call it?

  • During the fundraising and development phase, the project is called renaissance: St Albans
  • The final name will be developed during the project.

What will happen to the current Museum of St Albans and UH Galleries?

  • The Museum of St Albans closed in September 2015.
  • The Council will redevelop the site of the Museum of St Albans for housing. The proceeds from this development will provide capital to enable development of the new museum and art gallery at the Town Hall.
  • The Council commissioned a charrette consultation process, working with Look! St Albans and invited residents and interested stakeholders to discuss the future use of the land. This took place in October 2014.
  • Designs for the site have been drawn up by Kirby Cove Architects. The design retains the façade of the building.
  • The Council will maximise the value of the Hatfield Road site, and have commenced activities to gain relevant outline planning permissions during the development stage.
  • An application for planning permission was submitted, and permission granted, for the site of the Museum of St Albans in 2016.
  • The timetable for the sale of the completed development has not yet been finalised, but will occur during the next 18 months to 2 years.
  • The Spencer Estate have been consulted about the project, and have given their support in principle.

What happens if this project does not go ahead?

  • St Albans, a city of extraordinary historical importance will not have its story told fully, or in appropriate surroundings.
  • The former Museum of St Albans, built in 1898, had many limitations, including its location and facilities, and has closed. School children, community groups, residents and visitors alike will not be able to access any of the city’s social history.
  • The museum collection will be stored until detailed plans are finalised for its future long-term care. This may involve the continued storage of part of the collection and possibly the ethical disposal of some items through, for example, donations to other museums.
  • The critically acclaimed University of Hertfordshire Gallery, situated in the museum, will also close.
  • The opportunity to link the museum collection to innovative and experimental contemporary art, and the facility to host national and international contemporary art exhibitions, will be also be lost.

However the project has already come a long way in making this new museum and gallery project a reality and there is currently every reason to be confident of its success.

What will happen if we do not support the project?

  • A once-in-a-generation opportunity would be missed for St Albans and the District.
  • If we can’t raise enough funding to match the Heritage Lottery grant we will not be eligible for funding for a new museum and art gallery in the city from this source for another 5 years.
  • Council may be forced to suspend or cancel the project.
  • A radical alternative is needed. The current site has closed, if this project does not go ahead access will be lost to the post-Roman collection and the gallery space run by UH.

I don’t like art/museums, why should I support this project?

  • We have a once-in-a-generation commitment from project partners and stakeholders to secure the future of a museum and a contemporary art gallery in the city centre.
  • The design and orientation of the new museum and art gallery will allow visitors to choose which parts of the building they visit.
  • Proximity to other cultural facilities in the city centre, will enable the building to become a ‘stepping stone’ or ‘launching point’ for visitors to other heritage assets in St Albans and District.
  • A superb museum and art gallery in an iconic building in the centre of the City will be an attraction for many residents and visitors, improving the local economy for the benefit of the community.
  • Improved educational facilities will be of benefit to adults and children alike.
  • Events will be programmed into the museum and gallery to enable social activities too.