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You are here: Home Page > Council and Democracy > Council News > Archived News > March 2013 > The Higgins Bedford re-opening

The Higgins Bedford will re-open from dawn to dusk on 21st June 2013

The much anticipated opening of The Higgins Bedford will take place on the longest day of the year, Friday 21st June, in an amazing dawn to dusk launch.


The transformed art gallery and museum is located in the historic buildings of Castle Brewery and the adjoining Victorian family home, both built by the Higgins family in the mid-19th Century.


The Higgins Bedford will bring together an internationally renowned art collection with a brand new visitor experience of national significance, that does justice to the stories behind the people, places and collections associated with both the former museum and art gallery. The £5.8 million project also features a hugely expanded floorspace for exhibitions, state-of-the-art modern facilities and the latest technology to enable people of all ages to enjoy the displays. 


Finishing work is now taking place in preparation for the opening in what is set to be one of the cultural highlights of the year, with the longest day of the year chosen for the start of the next stage in the life of this remarkable, free, family-orientated venue.


The Mayor of Bedford Borough, Dave Hodgson, said: “The opening of The Higgins Bedford is a tremendously exciting event for Bedford town centre, marking the creation of a major cultural attraction for local residents and visitors to enjoy. Internationally renowned art will be on display in the very best modern facilities, while the story of Bedford Borough will be brought to life in the state-of-the-art surroundings. The redeveloped Higgins Bedford belongs to us all, and I hope local people of all ages will come along time and again to enjoy what is on offer. 


“In the face of extremely challenging economic conditions we have a stream of town centre regeneration projects coming to fruition, bucking the trend of decline for high streets elsewhere. Together these projects and the major investment in our town centre will increase footfall dramatically and send the clear message that Bedford town centre is a vibrant, enjoyable place to visit.”     


Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, who have supported the project with a £959,000 grant said: “It's exciting to see this project come to fruition. These are wonderful collections and it's fantastic that they are going to once more be available for those who know them from old as well as whole new audiences.”


One of the first exhibitions at the redeveloped facility will be A Sense of Place; an exhibition of artwork by ten community groups that have worked with The Higgins Bedford over the course of the redevelopment. Curated by artists Alex Julyan and Lucy Wilson, the exhibition explores the groups’ responses to ‘a sense of place’. The show will feature works by Aragon Lacemakers, Barford Avenue textile group, Pavenham Rushwork, Beds Garden Carers and many more.


Already new displays have been prepared, and many familiar (and less familiar) objects are returning to the building. The Zodiac Settle, designed by William Burges, will be on display for the first time since it was acquired in 2011. The settle (a kind of canopied bench) will be displayed in the new Burges Gallery, a hexagonal room with a dramatic vaulted ceiling, alongside the rest of the spectacular collection of his furniture.


The opening of The Higgins Bedford provides the finishing touch to the Cultural Quarter in the Castle Quay area of Bedford Town Centre. The redeveloped facility completes a comprehensive regeneration which has already seen the exposure and interpretation of archaeology in the grounds of Bedford Castle and newly opened restaurants, bars and shops adding to the vibrant atmosphere.


The major transformation and successful redevelopment of the Higgins Bedford has only been possible thanks to the commitment and support of donors and trustees, and Bedford Borough Council would like to thank them for championing this project throughout.


Background information:

1.The Higgins Bedford - Heritage

The Higgins Bedford will unite three previous cultural venues on one site: Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford Museum and Bedford Gallery. Following the merging of staffing and operations in 2005, the £5.8m project has allowed the buildings to be joined together and redeveloped throughout.


The Higgins family, the site at Castle Close and the development of the art gallery and museum are intrinsically linked. The Higgins family moved to Bedford in the 1820s, founding the brewery at Castle Close, the site today. The brewery remained in the Higgins family until 1928 when Cecil Higgins decided to sell it to Wells & Winch Ltd. in order to focus on his ambition to create a museum art collection ‘for the benefit, interest and education of the inhabitants of, and visitors to Bedford’. Cecil Higgins Art Gallery opened in 1949 in the house that had been his family home. Bedford Museum moved into the former Higgins & Sons Brewery in 1981.


When it reopens The Higgins Bedford will feature new displays, temporary exhibitions and extensive learning and events programmes, redeveloped galleries and large activity spaces.


The Higgins Bedford will explore the inspiring stories of local people and encourage a ‘sense of place’ for Bedford and the surrounding area. It will also showcase the wonderful and varied collections left for the enjoyment of local people.


It is hoped that The Higgins Bedford will attract a wider range of visitors to Bedford Borough, as well as being an excellent resource for local people. It will be more than an art gallery and museum – the plan is for it to become a ‘hub’ at the centre of Bedford, used as a venue for a wide range of activities, including family events, social functions for local communities, talks and workshops.


2. The Higgins Bedford - Collections
The site will showcase the Cecil Higgins Collection of fine and decorative arts, including a wonderful and varied print collection from world-famous artists such as Picasso; a first-class watercolour collection by artists including Turner, Constable, Cotman and Blake; and unique groups of work in dedicated galleries by the designers William Burges and Edward Bawden.

The Higgins Bedford will also exhibit the collections of Bedford Borough Council and the former Bedford Modern School Museum. These social history, archaeology, natural history and ethnography collections tell the stories of the people and places that have shaped Bedford Borough and its relationship with the wider world, from prehistory to the present day. Displays will feature the growth of the town from a small but busy medieval market to a centre of industry and business in more recent times.


3. The Redevelopment Project

The redevelopment project has been made possible by £3.2 million funding from Bedford Borough Council, as well as a grant of £959,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £100,000 from the Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, £500,000 from the Wixamtree Trust, £500,000 from The Harpur Trust, £350,000 from the Monument Trust, and £200,000 from Charles Wells Ltd, in addition to funding from a number of other sources.


4. The Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK, including £360 million to over 3,200 project in the East of England alone. www.hlf.org.uk.


5. The Harpur trust

The Harpur Trust has one goal - to help and support the people who live in and around Bedford. Even though we’re one of the largest Charities in the UK, everything we do is for the Bedford area. Using the legacy of Sir William Harpur, our founder in 1566, our aims are clear and simple. We’re here to inspire and support people in the Borough of Bedford to improve their lives by:
• providing and promoting education
• offering help and relief to anyone who is sick, in need, hardship or distress
• providing recreational facilities with a social welfare purpose
In the last year we gave over £1,900,000 in grants to projects based in and around Bedford. This money helped local organisations and individuals to make a difference to their own lives or those of others in the local area.


To find out more about The Harpur Trust visit http://www.harpurtrust.org.uk/

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