Missed out on the Lottery jackpot again this week? Don’t bin your ticket just yet, because it’s your passport into the world of one of Britain’s most famous artists.
For the next two weekends any National Lottery ticket or scratchcard allows you and your family free entry to the birthplace museum of Thomas Gainsborough.
Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury is opening its doors to all players as a thank you for a grant towards a multi-million pound project.
Staff at the museum wanted to thank not just the Heritage Lottery Fund, but also the people who provide the cash it pays out.
The museum has been earmarked for £4.73 million towards a £7.5 million development that will transform it into a state-of-the-art national centre for the artist.
Director Mark Bills said: “We wanted to thank the people who play the lottery without whom the grant would not be possible.
“We would really like to bring in some people who have never been here before.”
Ticket holders can enjoy a trip around the historic house where the artist was born in 1727, and see some of his possessions and letters.
In the walled garden they will find the 400 year-old mulberry tree where he probably picked fruit as a boy.
The House also has a huge collection of paintings and drawings by Gainsborough, who is best known for his stunning portraits.
It shows more of his work than any other gallery in the world.
As well as the Gainsboroughs on view, it also stages major exhibitions of the work of other artists.
Currently in its main galleries is a selection of sensitive and beautiful French drawings from the time of Gainsborough.
Artists include famous names like Boucher, Fragonard and Watteau.
There is also an intriguing, small exhibition giving an insight into Gainsborough’s painting technique.
Methods of Making shows a landscape from the House’s collection alongside a partial reconstruction by the skilled conservator who restored the original.
The museum’s unusual thank you gesture has delighted lottery bosses and was praised by Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England
“Every penny of our investment into projects saving, sharing and celebrating our heritage is made possible by people who play the National Lottery,” he said.
“So it’s absolutely brilliant to see Gainsborough’s House saying a huge thank you.
“Everyone who buys a National Lottery ticket benefits projects like this.
“This project shares the art, history and stories of Gainsborough with even more people, engaging volunteers and creating opportunities for local people.”
The ambitious plan to expand and revive Gainsborough’s House will make it one of the region’s leading heritage museums and galleries.
It involves extending the House onto the site of the town’s old Labour Exchange in Weavers’ Lane providing purpose-built new gallery space.
The scheme was recently praised by Theresa May when it was mentioned during Prime Minister’s Questions by South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.
And top architects are queueing up for the chance to design the new building.
“This is a very exciting project,” said Mark, who leads a team of full and part-time staff, and more than 200 volunteers.
“We publicised it in the Official Journal of the European Union, and 85 architects, including some leading names, have responded.
“It shows what a prestigious project it is.
“A lot of museum and gallery expansions are conversions or extensions of other buildings whereas this is a new-build which makes it exciting for them.
“We hope to have an architect appointed by next April ... it’s going to be quite a job going through 85 applications.
“We’ll be looking at the aesthetics, the ability to deliver our brief, and the costs.”
Gallery space in the new building will enable the original house to be set out more as an 18th century home, said Mark,
While the Heritage Lottery grant is earmarked for the project, there will be a final check that plans are progressing according to the original proposal before it is paid.
And although Gainsborough’s House and its supporters are on the way to securing the rest of money needed, there is still more fundraising to be done.
“We hope the development phase will be completed by the end of March 2018, with work finished by late 2020 ready to open in early 2021,” he said.
The expansion will also enable the museum to contribute more to Sudbury by attracting tourists and boosting the economy.
It also aims to engage and inspire a larger and more diverse range of visitors, while securing the future of nationally-significant heritage.
“We do benefit the town,” said Mark. “We did a Gross Value Added calculation for the funding application which worked out at £8.5 million for the project.
“That includes visitor impact, employment, goods and services.
“Once it is completed the GVA benefit would be approximately £3 million a year.
“The cultural, social and economic impact of museums is increasingly taken seriously now..”
National Lottery players raise, on average, over £30 million each week for projects all over the country.
In total £36 billion has been raised for good causes since the Lottery began in 1994 and more than 500,000 individual grants have been made across the UK.
The Gainsborough’s House offer is valid this weekend, December 10 and 11, and next, December 17 and 18.
Any ticket or scratchcard entitles a family of up to six people free admission.
The House is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 11am to 5pm on Sundays.