When Elmbridge Museum launched a pioneering new website on June 1st 2014, it was an important step towards it becoming a state-of-the-art 21st Century service and a cost effective ‘museum without walls’.
The project is one of many that have been successfully steered to fruition by Conservative councillor Jan Fuller during her eventful tenure as Portfolio holder for Leisure & Culture at Elmbridge Council – and is a fitting legacy.
Cllr Fuller, an Oxshott ward councillor, took up the reins at Leisure in May 2008 and reflected recently: "It was a huge learning curve at first but I had amazing support from the officers."
The portfolio is responsible for delivering a huge array of non-statutory events and services to Elmbridge residents and borough visitors, from sporting events, to park facilities and the arts.
One long term challenge was Elmbridge Museum, which had a vast collection of around 50,000 artefacts but only 750 of which that could be displayed at any one time at its premises in Weybridge High Street, with the rest in storage – not always in optimum conditions. It was costing ratepayers £250,000 every year to run the museum, with an annual footfall of 6,000 visitors - as Jan reflected: “It was very, very expensive for what it was. The building’s access was poor and there was pressure to close it."
Rather than do that, Cllr Fuller and her team began a process that resulted in the ‘Museum without walls’ concept, where the entire collection would be available to the public via a quality website and eventually supplemented with displays in various locations around the borough. The first step was to slim down the collection by 5,000 artefacts, returning these to their original owners or offered to other museums which were more appropriate to house them, and retaining those which were relevant to Elmbridge and its history. The artefacts are now to be put in storage with proper climatic controls in the Weybridge area, where they will be viewable to view by appointment.
The online museum was recently hailed by peers at the Museum and Heritage Exhibition at Olympia as an example to follow and ‘leading light’ and will save the borough around a considerable sum each year whilst making the museum more accessable. Additionally a Collections Officer has been appointed to take boxes of items into schools and to give presentations, and taking the museum to the community.
A high point of Cllr Fuller’s time at Leisure was of course the 2012 London Olympics. She was tasked with overseeing the borough’s preparations ahead of three cycling races which passed through Elmbridge and were a huge success. Thousands lined the routes and the global television coverage ensured that Elmbridge streets and scenery were exposed to a worldwide audience. Since then the Olympic legacy has been marked by the Leisure team with sculptures and decoration on roundabouts in Molesey and Hersham and many other legacy projects..
Cllr Fuller said: The Olympics was a wonderful advertisement for the Borough and bought many tourists to the area.”
Other successes on her watch include the major refurbishment of Walton Playhouse and the borough’s public toilets; the outdoor gym at Long Ditton and children’s play area in Hurst Meadow, Molesey; the opening of the all-weather football pitch at Xcel in Walton, and working with the community of Cobham for the regenerating of River Hill turning it into a stunning riverside park.
One achievement that Cllr Fuller is most proud of can be seen by visitors to Brooklands in Weybridge. There, mounted on a plinth, is the mini Concorde plane that stood for a long time at Heathrow Airport. Given Brooklands’ historic connection with aviation, Cllr Fuller assisted Brooklands Museum in bringing this to the Borough.storage and now Elmbridge is the only place to have more than one Concorde (as Brooklands Museum famously has a Concorde among its exhibits).
Looking to the future, Cllr Fuller said: "Everything needs change. Mary Sheldon will do a fantastic job at Leisure and will get fantastic help from the officers. As Deputy Mayor of Elmbridge I am looking forward to getting out and meeting people and all the organisations and helping them in any way."
Interview by Steve Bax