The exciting, long-awaited project to install a new footbridge and lift at Seaford Museum is now back on track thanks to a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project was first suggested in 2010 when the Trustees of the Keith Baker Charitable Will Trust approached the museum with an offer of a grant to make the museum accessible to wheelchair users and other, less mobile people.
“It was a very generous offer, which became a massive challenge,” said Kay Turvey, Seaford Museum Chairman.
“The past years have seen a series of ups and downs as various problems were encountered and eventually overcome, but throughout that time we have enjoyed the active support of the Keith Baker Trust, who have pledged £200,000 to the project, as well as many other local groups and people.”
The Seaford Museum improved access project will see the installation of a new ramped footbridge, an internal lift, ramping to the lower ground floor exhibition space, new energy efficient LED lighting and improved displays and material.
Ms Turvey added: “This means that for the first time, Martello Tower 74, which houses our important museum of local history, will be accessible to all our members and visitors.”
Martello Tower 74 was the last of a series of defensive forts constructed along the coast of Sussex and Kent as a reaction to the threat of a Napoleonic invasion. Although 74 were built in the southeast of England, fewer than half remain and this is the only one open to the public throughout the year.
The walls are up to 10 feet thick and it is surrounded by a 20 feet deep moat. The original access to the Tower was across a drawbridge and movement between the various levels was by way of trapdoors and ladders.
Subsequently, the drawbridge was removed and part of the moat covered over to form the promenade, leaving the only way into the museum through a narrow door and a set of steep stairs.
The Tower is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which has meant all proposals have had to be approved by Historic England, as well as the local planning authorities.
The original plan had been to put the lift in the moat, but that was ruled as visually unacceptable, so a number of alternative ideas were drawn up by the scheme’s architects, the Brighton-based Morgan Carn Partnership Architects.
The latest blow to the project was a change in the VAT rules which meant the zero rate VAT allowance for work on historic buildings was removed, leading to a potential 20 per cent increase in the costs of the work.
However, the Museum has obtained a ruling from HMRC which has allowed the new access to be classified as a ramp, which does qualify for zero rate VAT, but the removal of the general concession will apply to other essential work and the change will still add about £30,000 to the cost, bringing it up to just under £300,000 overall.
Fortunately, an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was submitted and a grant of £100,000 has recently been approved.
“Without that generous grant we might well have been stuck,” said Kay Turvey, “It goes to show that it’s not just National Lottery winners who benefit from the weekly flutter, but small local charities such as ourselves.
“We can now look forward to the building work starting later this year and our museum being opened up to even more visitors and students in 2017. We will also be able to offer volunteering and learning opportunities to people who have been excluded up to now because they haven’t been able to get into the building, and we will be reducing our running costs by installing energy efficient LED lighting, particularly important in a building with no windows or natural light.
“We believe by making the museum more accessible, we will be able to make an important contribution to making the Seaford seafront more attractive to visitors and residents, and make a contribution to the local economy and wellbeing of the town. We have a busy but exciting few months ahead.”
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