Friday, November 13, 2015

Is democracy dead in this country?

Is democracy dead in this country? If you were at last night's Council Meeting at the Civic Offices you could be forgiven for thinking it is in Swindon.

Personally, I am governed by a political party I didn't vote for at either national or local level, but hey ho, I suppose this is a drawback of the democratic process.

But do these people I didn't vote for have carte blanche to impose upon me decisions with which I seriously disagree. Is there no room for appeal or debate, even compromise?

Well at local level apparently not.

Swindon Borough Council is hell bent on leasing out Lydiard House and Park with the matter of the Council subsidy of £450,000 constantly quoted. Members protest that their aim is to reduce the council subsidy and, with the aid of a private sector partner or partners, generate new and sustainable forms of income.

A number of experts in the field believe that this is possible while keeping the Grade I Palladian mansion and Grade II listed parkland under continued local council ownership.

My argument is that SBC has not explored any alternatives, or if they have they are not making their findings public.

Please do not dismiss us in the arrogant, condescending 'we know better than you do' attitude we saw last night.

I am publishing, yet again, a growing list of ideas submitted by the people of Swindon - from the big ones to the little ones, because as we know - every little helps!

Important notice:

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 this.
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 
Motorway sign – informs people on the lucrative, history rich, West Country heritage trail that we are here.
Explore avenues of grants and funding.
Negotiate contracts for services rather than lease to partners and lose control.
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.
Host interest appropriate TV programmes e.g. Antiques Roadshow, Flog It etc

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.
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/Prisoner of War Hospital 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 events fields behind the play park, good income generating event.
Robin Reliant Owners Club - events fields - another popular income generating event.
Morris Minor Owners club - events  fields - yet another popular income generating event.
Fashion Show and photo shoot on the Grand Staircase.
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.
Music concerts - classical and pop/rock. Bring back the Party in the Park events, hugely popular.
Antique Fair
Farmers' Markets - and while we're at it why not convert part of the Visitor Centre into a Farm Shop?
Land train visiting all areas of the park - 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 out accommodation for childrens' parties.

Conference Centre:
How can the Council use the Conference Centre if the Chartridge contract, now in abeyance, is unlikely to be renewed?
In the immediate future - behind the scenes tour:  American visitors received a tour around the upper rooms and they were fascinated.
In the long term - 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.
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.

Lydiard - a House for All Seasons


  1. I admire your stance, and I totally agree that the Tories DO NOT have a mandate of public majority to privatise every asset that our forefathers obtained for the good of Swindon residents. Who are these people who are so hell bent on a one track course dictated to by their Government? Question Time on Thursday, comes to mind, as certain politicians of that ilk kept on reminding us that we are the FIFTH wealthiest country in the world, so we can send millions of pounds of tax-payer's input abroad, yet cannot retain our heritage!

  2. I used to work in catering for a heritage organisation and every time I've visited Lydiard Park I've been annoyed at how badly the current catering operations are run. Catering outlets at heritage attractions can be massively profitable and if they were run properly, the ones at Lydiard could easily turn a profit that would cover more than half of the current subsidy, just taking into account their day-to-day operations. I've also always been curious as to why the House and Church aren't promoted more heavily as a potential wedding venue - they are both beautifuL and again, that's a very profitable market.

    I now work in Swindon and my company are always looking for local conference venues - we generally avoid Lydiard because although it's lovely (and we'd love to show off Swindon's heritage) the whole place is just so badly run and tatty that we can't put guests there. SBC is so short-sighted, just a little investment could turn Lydiard into an asset that could be very profitable indeed. It's so sad that SBC seem determined to destroy all of this town's heritage, both built and natural.

  3. Improve the cycle path signs to it from all areas of Swindon so you can get there without having to use a GPS navigation system, we had a go, twice, and got lost each time even with the cycle path map (it is just not accurate enough). Coming from Old Walcot and going along the western flyover, you get to west Swindon and then just have to guess as the signs point to the district centre both ways then there are loads of paths with no signs.