A new museum could be coming to Wellington… with your help
Two years ago I wrote a blog post on this website about Wellington’s great missed opportunity to bring Mythstories Museum to town when our former library was sold off for housing. Well it looks like the move could be back on, if enough people show their support.
Mythstories is unique. According to the BBC, it was the first storytelling museum in the world. It has featured on television in Japan and South Korea. It attracts storytellers from around the globe. And with a bit of luck, it’s about to move to Wellington.
It was a blow to Wellington when three banks closed in about as many months earlier this year. But it also presented a big opportunity, as all are attractive, prominent 19th and early 20th century buildings, centrally located and very usable as other things. The founders of Mythstories Museum, Dez and Ali, have been looking at one in particular – the old Natwest Bank on Church Street – and they’re convinced this would be perfect as their new home. They’ve viewed the building and since approached the bank’s charitable arm, which is warm to the idea of gifting the site to Mythstories – the only way they could hope to obtain it – but they’ll need to be reassured that local people support the idea. So that’s where you come in. But first, here’s some context.
I asked Dez and Ali what the move could mean for them, for the young people they work with through their education programmes, and for Wellington. I’m really enthusiastic about this and hope you are too.
WHY RELOCATE THE MUSEUM TO WELLINGTON?
‘We’ve been looking to move here for four years. Wellington is at the heart of storytelling in Shropshire – it’s where the giant created The Wrekin, after all. And the Cornovii tribe who lived on and around The Wrekin must have spun some fantastical stories around their camp fires. In other words, stories and storytelling have a long pedigree here.
‘On a practical front, Wellington is easy for our visitors to get to with its road and rail connections. It would also bring us closer to the museum’s existing partners – Telford & Wrekin Libraries and its Arts Service, Ironbridge Gorge Museums and so many schools and colleges. As an educational charity, schools are our main audience – and we run two after-school storytelling clubs in Wellington.’
WHY WOULD THE OLD BANK MAKE SUCH A GOOD HOME FOR THE MUSEUM, AND WHAT WOULD IT ENABLE YOU TO DO?
We have two processional giants which we would like to house – and the bank is one of the few buildings with enough headroom to hold them! It also has the right amount of floor space, along with safe storage downstairs in the vault. What’s more, it’s a brilliant setting alongside the parish church and church lawns, where our school parties could eat their picnics in the summer. And whilst the building itself only dates back to the 1920s, the plaque on the side signifies that ‘The Green’ where it stands is a historic spot. Not only was it home to the town’s lock-up (with all its stories of crime and skulduggery), but it can claim to be the place where the settlement of Wellington really began, back in the days of the Saxons.
‘It’s important to say that the move would really enable us to grow, as well. We desperately need more space, and the bank will provide that. We’ll be able to reach more people and develop new types of events – from ‘Toddler Tours’ to Weekend Workshops for aspiring adult storytellers – alongside our existing youth activities. Building on the work we already do with students and schools in Wellington we could take things in all sorts of exciting directions for a range of local people if we were based here full-time.
‘Lastly, it would allow us to inject new life into the museum – whether that’s involving local people in sharing their stories, or coming on board as volunteers so we can open to the public for longer. We want this to be a place that local people really take to their hearts.’
WHAT DO YOU THINK MYTHSTORIES COULD BRING TO WELLINGTON?
‘We could become a focus for local heritage and a place for local people to drop in and discover something new – about the history of here, or the culture of somewhere far away. It could also be a visitor attraction, bringing people into the centre of the town. As things stand we would be the only professional arts organisation in Telford & Wrekin, so could really help to enhance the ‘cultural offer’ for the whole area, from our base in Wellington. Most importantly, we really value Wellington and its stories – from the folklore and mythology of the area to the real life stories of Wellingtonians today. A town confident about its past knows it can be optimistic for its future!’
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS FROM ME… AND YOUR CHANCE TO HELP
Hopefully Dez ans Ali’s words will help paint a picture of what this could mean for the town. For me, the great thing about the Mythstories concept is that it has so many possibilities. This can be a place that celebrates Shropshire folklore, making it a great stop-off for non-local visitors on their way from Ironbridge to Shrewsbury. But it will also bring myths and legends from around the world into our town – so a visit here will be a great way to expand the minds and imaginations of our children. This can be a place for displays and exhibitions – like any museum – but it will also be a place that celebrates and sustains the living tradition of stories and storytelling.
So, I can imagine workshops, clubs, performances, perhaps even a whole storytelling festival. And alongside ancient mythology and tall tales, this can be a place that captures and presents our own family stories – whether they’re from Wellington or the West Indies. Imagine oral history projects; imagine exhibitions that create new folklore about the world around us. Imagine all these things and more, here in Wellington. And when you’ve imagined it, take 2 minutes to fill in our online form so we can tell the RBS Charity that Mythstories has your support! PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR FORMS BY 31st OCTOBER!
I’ve grown up and lived my entire life in Wellington, and yet for most of that life I was oblivious to the incredible mythic landscape that surrounded me; hills and forests infused with the romance of the ancient past, and the colourful intrigue of the centuries that stretch backward to meet it. It was a visit to Mythstories Museum in Wem that inspired and encouraged my interest in local foklore and history, which I have since passionately explored in my artwork, and as a direct result of the traditions I discovered at the museum; have begun expressing through performance and story-telling myself. Now I have taken my experiences with Ali and Dez, and their marvellous museum, and the personal growth I have gained from them, beyond my humble home of Wellington, to engage new audiences and explore new realms of myth and magic as I study further afield for a Masters Degree in Fine Art. I think it is widely overlooked that Wellington is at the heart of a vast and enchanting landscape of stories both old and new, sat below the county-defining monument and axis of mythology; The Wrekin hill, this town is truly a perfect home for the Museum, and it’s presence woul undoubtedly inspire new generations, visitors both local and foreign, to feel the sense of awe and discovery at our rich heritage of woven wonders, that I have felt with such vigour.
Telford town centre has huge planes of glass, neon lights and some expensive chain restaurants. Wellington could have something that will last much longer, and mean much more than that; Mythstories offers nothing less than culture and tradition that can literally speak to all; young and old, rich and poor, local, national, international, and it has the chance to speak it here. Roots that sink down for millennia could be planted in Wellington soil, imagine how high the branches might reach in ages to come.
It would be so good to have a museum in Wellington. And for all the wonderful story tellers to be seen and heard.