Cultural experts have welcomed plans to transform Worthing Museum and Art Gallery into an attraction with regional and national appeal.
Details of the Let The Light In project were unveiled on Thursday to MPs, business representatives, educational organisations and cultural experts from across the region.
The Edwardian building has been altered over the years, so only 50 per cent is currently accessible to the public and just five per cent of the collection is on display.
Let The Light In focuses on taking the building back to its original glory, stripping out the plasterboard panels and fake ceilings from the 1960s and 1970s, and opening up windows and roof lights that are currently boarded up.
This will open up the entire building into a seamless, bright, spacious series of galleries to showcase the collections and significantly expand education and research facilities.
Martin Randall, Adur and Worthing Councils’ director for the economy, said: “With 60,000 visitors each year, Worthing Museum and Art Gallery already plays a big part in the town’s local economy. But we think it can be even better.
“These changes could create a centre of national significance in the heart of our community. That is great news not only researchers from the film industry, fashion houses and historians who will get access to the wonderful collections but also for our local community who will have an inspirational cultural hub.
“The museum and art gallery, which is part of Worthing Borough Council’s Culture offer, will double current visitor numbers to reach 120,000 by the end of 2020.
“Combined with the work we are doing in terms of regeneration and improving public spaces, this is all part of the councils’ wider vision of bringing investment into Worthing.”
Educational space will be increased to support more visits from schools, conservation work will be brought under the public gaze in a new dedicated area, there will be a new café and a larger shop.
The plans also include a state-of-the-art costume research centre, which will give access to the 30,000 items in the collection in a centre with national importance.
Worthing Borough Council has committed £125,000 to the £3.5million project and a further £50,000 for the costume research centre, which will be started by late summer.
The key bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund will be completed by June, with bids already in to Clore Foundation and Wolfsen, and a strategic partnership with private and public funders is being created.
Gerry Connolly, senior curator at Worthing Museum, said: “We are delighted to be opening up the sections of the building that are currently unseen and unused by the public, giving us the space to exhibit a larger percentage of our collections and allowing for more rotation of objects.
“We are keen to work with artists and designers as well as historians and create displays that surprise and delight our visitors, including a 20ft tower of toys.
“The idea is to open up the whole museum and let the light in, turning the museum into something the public can be proud of, a museum for the 21st century.”
The council said the response to the project was ‘incredibly positive’ and the delegates were unanimous in their support.
The aim is to complete the project by the end of 2020, with the museum remaining open to the public for the majority of the work.
Amanda O’Reilly, Adur and Worthing Councils’ head of culture, said: “These really are exciting times for the museum and gallery, as well as Worthing as a whole. The vision for the museum is exceptional and we are thrilled to be working on such an exciting project, it goes beyond what we thought possible.
“The museum is a beautiful building, the collections, particularly the costume, archeology and toys are of national significance and the museum staff and volunteers team are extremely talented and dedicated to the development. Match this with exceptional architects Allies and Morrison. who have a real passion for the project, and it is clear something very special is happening.
“The hard work in winning the funding starts now, but we are close to starting phase one and fully expect the project to snowball once the quality of the work can be seen.”