y Gaer – Open for 3 months and now closed by Coronavirus

This update confirms the current closure of y Gaer during the Coronavirus-19 pandemic and gives a short overview of the Museum and Art Gallery’s first three months’ opening and work still in progress, including our Society’s involvement.

Closure during Coronavirus outbreak

Powys County Council closed the y Gaer hub containing the Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery and Brecon’s public library on 23 March 2020 until further notice under the Government’s Coronavirus restrictions.  (Click here for Powys CC announcement.)  This brought 14 weeks of public opening since 5 December 2019 to an end.  The Brecknock Society and Museum Friends joins many others in looking forward to the time when y Gaer can reopen and resume its community and visitor services.  

Panoramic view of the Brycheiniog Gallery showing dairy and transport exhibits

Successful reopening of the Museum and Art Gallery

The near unanimous of verdict of the Breconshire community and visitors on y Gaer has been very positive.  There is wide recognition that a remarkable building has been created – delighting the eye, stimulating the imagination, and effectively combining the refurbished Shire Hall and the new build areas.  In the Museum and Art Gallery, the galleries and other public areas like the Victorian Schoolroom and the Assize Courtroom have been fully open to the public with all their planned exhibits and displays.  This has included an exciting first temporary exhibition in the Sir John Lloyd Gallery by the Royal Watercolour Society of Wales and the Confederation of Nordic Watercolour Societies.   Only the cells below the Courtroom had yet to be opened pending safety and lighting improvements.  As a comment in the Museum Visitors’ Book puts it “… we love the clever way that the galleries and exhibits link into the history, heritage and regions of Breconshire.”

Full credit is also due to the limited number of Powys CC y Gaer staff assisted by the cohort of y Gaer Volunteers, many of whom are members of our Society.  It’s been good to welcome new visitors (some have been brought in by their children who have enjoyed a school class visit!) and also to learn the facts and stories that visitors have to tell about the exhibits.  All this demonstrates the effectiveness of the ‘Connecting Communities and Collections’ concept behind the interpretation and displays in the renovated museum.

Breconshire exhibits – Natural history – butterflies and moths; Social history – 19th C farm worker’s dress; Culture – 18th C actress Sarah Siddons display case; Local industry – Blacksmith’s implements

Work still in progress

Not everything associated with the Museum and Art Gallery could however be complete or fully operational for the opening.  At the time of closure, work was still underway on some important elements, including:

  • completing the printed labelling, including donor acknowledgement, of exhibits in the display cases;
  • fully commissioning the 46 touch-screen tablet terminals which are located throughout the galleries and provide ‘digital label’ information on around 350 exhibits. This is the Interpretation Project that our Society is running;
  • planning a programme of regular talks in the Museum and Art Gallery about particular exhibits and the collections. Our Society is playing a major role in this.
  • the atrium café was due to open under Neath Port Talbot College management later in April in time for Easter holidays;
  • launching the dedicated y Gaer website. The structure and pages have been created, including a section on the Collections. The pages are currently being translated into Welsh prior to going public;
  • producing a publicity leaflet advertising y Gaer for information centres, shops and visitor locations;
  • placing an acknowledgement board in the Museum entrance hall thanking the funders and donors to the y Gaer project including our Society’s Conservation and Display appeal.

Future operational arrangements

Our News post in October 2019 explained that our Society, as a local funding partner in the project to develop y Gaer, was involved in discussions with Powys CC and other future stakeholders aimed at reinforcing the operational arrangements for y Gaer.  These discussions have yet to be completed.  Also, additional operational partners have yet to be appointed by Powys CC to help to generate income for y Gaer from appropriate use of flexible spaces in the new building area.

In March 2020, Powys CC circulated a working note on the ‘Proposed future stakeholder involvement in y Gaer’ to potential future stakeholders before the Coronavirus restrictions prevented a Stakeholder meeting to agree this.  This note is available on request to our Members via the Chair (see Contact us).  In particular, the note sets out a partnership framework of work streams, led by Powys CC staff working alongside external individuals and organisations contributing particular skills, experience or resources, to deliver agreed actions.