Ongoing discussions over y Gaer future

BBC Wales interview Mervyn Bramley following Public Meeting on 20 August – see below

This News item follows on from our item on ‘Discussions on future plans for y Gaer‘ posted on 22 July 2019.

Our Society’s Further Public Statement

We held a special Executive Council meeting on 29th July for the Society’s trustees to consider our position on the proposals by Powys CC and NPTC Group to utilise space in the renovated Museum & Art Gallery for teaching by Brecon Beacons College.  We fully recognised the need for Powys CC to explore ways of sourcing additional revenue funding for y Gaer, but could not accept solutions which either impacted so negatively on the expected benefits from y Gaer or were developed without consulting Powys CC’s existing partners or the Community who have waited so long for the new museum, art gallery and library to open.  We wrote to Powys CC on 1st August and issued a Second Statement (click here) summarising the Society’s views.

Key points in this Statement by the Society are:

  • As a Society and charitable body, our ‘aims and objects’ focus on the Museum and Art Gallery.  The benefits that its renovated facilities and increased exhibition space are to provide to the community and to visitors have been central to our commitment and fundraising of £280K (which includes contributions from other individuals, charities and trusts) and to the future involvement of our members.  We therefore totally oppose the reallocation to class rooms of any parts of the Museum and Art Gallery.
  • The proposed changes in use of the spaces in the Museum and Art Gallery to accommodate class rooms would destroy the integrity of the carefully-planned rooms and downgrade the temporary exhibition gallery.  In particular, the latter would constrain y Gaer’s ability to stage temporary loan exhibitions, which in turn attract return visits and external visitors to Brecon – a key plank in the business case for y Gaer.
  • The Society together with other partners, stakeholders and the community have been inspired by the concept of the colocated ‘Museum : Art Gallery : Library’ with its community facilities.  We cannot allow this concept to fade.
  • We requested an early meeting of the existing y Gaer stakeholders (now arranged for 13th September) and funders, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  We want the pros and cons of the proposed link with NPTC Group to be presented by Powys CC and discussed in detail.
  • We also supported community demands for a public meeting (subsequently held on 20thAugust) to hear and question the Powys CC / NPTC Group proposals.
  • The aim of the above discussions should be a new jointly-agreed Vision for y Gaer and a programme of implementation to which all existing partners could either commit or from which they could withdraw.
  • The Society has been shocked to find that Powys CC did not, at the outset, come to its existing funding partners to discuss its shortfall in revenue funding and to see what solutions they could offer to the problem.  This lack of openness is also having an impact on the goodwill felt towards y Gaer by the community volunteers who have offered their services to work alongside Powys CC staff in its future operation.
  • The Society stands ready to do everything possible to redeem the situation that has arisen.

Views of other external funders

We have been encouraged to learn that other external funders of y Gaer share our views that Powys CC must be more open and must respect the purposes for which the funding was given.  The National Heritage Lottery Fund (£3M), the Welsh Government (£1M) and the Brecknock Art Trust (£215K) – who alongside our Society have contributed approximately £5M of the £14M y Gaer costs – have all indicated that a change in use of planned spaces in y Gaer could result in repayment or withdrawal of their committed funding.

Public Meeting in Brecon – 20th August

This was arranged by Matthew Dorrance – Powys County Councillor for Brecon’s St John’s Ward and member of the Stakeholder Group for y Gaer.  The meeting was attended by a capacity audience of more than 200 people, with many others standing outside or turned away.  We heard Powys CC’s Cabinet Portfolio Holders Rachel Powell (Young People, Leisure & Culture) and Phyl Davies (Highways, Recycling & Assets) along with its Executive Managers Nigel Brinn (Corporate Director – Economy & Environment) and Nina Davies (Head of Housing & Community Development) summarise the current position with their discussions with NPTC Group and answer questions.

The public were told that without additional revenue funding for y Gaer, Powys CC could have to limit opening of y Gaer to just 30 hours a week.  Powys CC officers stated that y Gaer is now set to open in November or December 2019 whether or not additional revenue funding (‘a funding partner’) can be found.  They insisted that nothing had been agreed yet with NPTC Group, that the Museum and Art Gallery spaces would be ‘largely untouched’, and that the community, stakeholders and other funders would all be consulted in arriving at future arrangements for the operation of y Gaer.  Their statements seemed more conciliatory than at the Society’s meeting with Powys CC officers on 17 July (see earlier News item).

See the on-line web reports on the public meeting by the Brecon & Radnor Express (click here) and fyi Brecon (click here).  We acknowledge the Brecon & Radnor Express for the comprehensive coverage of the meeting given in its 29th August edition (click here).

Speaking for the Society at the meeting, John Gibbs our Chairman said “We have been working in partnership with Powys CC over the refurbishment of the Museum and Art Gallery for 15 years – since the first bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (as it then was ) was being prepared.  Can we please have an early meeting with all the stakeholders and funding partners to discuss all possible means of meeting the shortfall in revenue funding – for example setting up a patrons’ or sponsors’ scheme?”  He urged Powys CC to move quickly on opening up these discussions.

After the Public Meeting, BBC Wales Today interviewed Cllr Matthew Dorrance and Mervyn Bramley, the Society’s lead for y Gaer.  See the on-line web report on BBC Wales (click here).  Questioned on the Society’s views on the use of y Gaer by Brecon Beacons College, Mervyn Bramley said “We don’t object to them (the College) being part of the whole offering but what is a problem is if that is at the expense of losing space which has been designed to display our amazing collections.”

Awaited meetings with Powys CC

Powys CC has scheduled an y Gaer Stakeholder Group meeting for 13thSeptember to discuss the future operation and use of y Gaer.

We await dates and arrangements from Powys CC for meeting with the existing funders of y Gaer.