MUSEUM volunteers are celebrating the end of a three-year project which aimed to connect an iconic painting of Malmesbury Abbey with a diverse range of communities.
The project began when Athelstan Museum trustees purchased J.M.W. Turner's (also known as William Turner) watercolour of Malmesbury Abbey in 2020 from a London seller through a £275,000 grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund and £150,000 from the Art Fund. 

The painting, which is thought to have been painted in 1827, had not been on public display since 1833 and was at risk of being bought privately and taken abroad if the museum team didn’t act.

One of the principal criteria expressed by the National Lottery for funding was that the museum must involve a ‘wider range of people in heritage’. 

As a result, the Turner Diversity Programme was developed, which aimed to take art connected to the Turner painting to as many different sections of society as possible. 
This included a formal exhibition opening, partnerships with local schools as well as monthly art sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. 
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns impacted the public’s ability to visit museums and galleries so the museum team had to rethink some of its plans. 
By adapting its programme and relocating a number of its talks and activities online volunteers ensured the project kept with its original intentions and scope. 
Since the lifting of lockdown restrictions, Athelstan Museum has seen a substantial increase in visitor numbers because of the acquisition, and a greater number of people than ever before have visited from outside the area. 
Sharon Nolan, chair of the museum’s trustees, said: “Thanks to volunteers Susan Mockler and Sue Poolman, Athelstan Museum's Turner Diversity Programme has been a huge success.

"In spite of having to adapt initial plans because of Covid and other setbacks Susan and Sue used the Turner watercolour to inspire a diverse range of people to enjoy making their own paintings. 
“They took Turner's art to people in care homes and Carolyn Brothwood worked with Malmesbury School to organise a programme with students who created their own artwork, some of which we have showcased alongside Malmesbury Abbey watercolour in the museum.

"It has been a positive and memorable experience for all involved."