In response to Denise Backhouse’s letter Stop Gutting the Allen Gallery (January 4), I have the privilege of chairing Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT), an independent charity managing museums, galleries and art centres, including Alton’s Allen Gallery. Our aim is to promote our county’s rich heritage and widen access to the arts and culture for residents and visitors alike.  

The Allen Gallery houses one of the UK’s most outstanding collections of ceramics. Whilst the collection is truly superb, sadly the gallery itself is in urgent need of an overhaul to allow us to present the collection in a more engaging and contemporary way and to make it accessible to a wider audience. 

We have worked tirelessly to promote investment in the gallery and have garnered financial support of over £300,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other funders for the first phase of a major project that will enable us to update the gallery and open it up to more people. We anticipate that the final investment figure will be £2.5 million and are confident of securing the outstanding funding needed.

Our plans for the Allen Gallery have the community at their very heart. Phase one is almost complete, with its focus on revealing untold stories about the collection; phase two will focus on refurbishment of the gallery and creation of a new space for community activities, such as children’s workshops and reminiscence sessions. 

The arts sector is facing a major financial crisis across the country as funding levels are squeezed from local and central government. Indeed, a number of HCT venues are facing closure as we simply cannot afford to operate them. For the Allen Gallery to have attracted investment of this level when times are so tough is testament to the quality of the collection and our ambition to encourage many more visitors to enjoy what it has to offer.  

Ms Backhouse is entirely wrong in her view that we have failed to properly consult on our plans for the Allen Gallery, indeed to secure the level of funding we have achieved has demanded a high level of scrutiny and feedback both from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the public. 

We have discussed our proposals with council leaders and they are entirely supportive of our plans; this is demonstrated by the award of £450,000 from the East Hampshire District Council Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) for the delivery phase of the project.

I am completely perplexed why Ms Backhouse would want to scupper our plan to update the gallery. The collection deserves a space that better showcases its treasures, encourages a wider audience and embraces the local community. Alton can only benefit from an updated attraction driving increased visitor numbers to the town.

Alan Lovell

Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire