Dorset County Museum has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting new Collections Discovery Centre project, it was announced today. The main aims of the project are to provide a new state of the art learning centre, better archive and storage facilities and better public access to displays of the Museum’s vast collection.
This will be achieved through the sensitive yet contemporary redevelopment of the current building, which will transform Dorset County Museum’s facilities and double its visitor numbers. There will be new gallery spaces, an area for researchers to work and open workshop spaces so the public can see for themselves the fascinating inner workings of the museum. There will also be a new shop and tearoom, accessible from the street. The award of initial stage one funding of £483,900 will enable a detailed two year development plan to take place ahead of final submission to the HLF in May 2017. This would enable building work to start in 2017 and the Collections Discovery Centre to be opened to the public by 2020.
The Museum is housed in the centre of Dorchester in a beautiful high Victorian gothic building of architectural importance which will be carefully preserved during the works. The 1883 Crickmay Building which housed the Museum originally along with the stunning Victorian Hall will be conserved, and John White’s historic sixteenth century rectory will be sensitively restored.
More than 45,000 people visit the Museum every year, along with 5,000 local school children. It is anticipated that the new Collections Discovery Centre will become a focal point for locals and visitors to Dorset alike, attracting twice as many visitors in the years to come.
Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum said “This is a brilliant and exciting opportunity for Dorset. For the first time we will have the space to do justice to our amazing collections, whilst ensuring they are safely preserved for future generations to enjoy. We would like to thank all of the organisations and individuals who have supported us with this bid. In particular we would like to thank, Arts Council England, Wessex Museums Partnership, Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorchester Town Council.”
Dr Peter Down, Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society continued “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the importance of the Dorset County Museum to the people of Dorset, and also recognises our commitment to learning with the new education centre. This very generous grant will allow us to increase the small number of staff, and give space to the many volunteers on which the museum relies heavily. As the County Museum, we can now look forward to working even more closely with our partner museums and other conservation Trusts within the whole of Dorset.”
The Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, Patron of the Dorset County Museum Development Appeal, added “This project will enable the Museum to bring world class exhibitions to the local area, and develop its role as a cultural and community hub for a range of events and activities. By 2020, while retaining and respecting its Victorian roots, the Museum will have been completely transformed into a modern, sustainable heritage service that serves twice as many visitors, making an even more significant contribution to the local economy.”
Explaining the importance of the HLF support Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West said “From the spectacular Weymouth Bay pliosaur to the largest Thomas Hardy collection in the world, the collections at Dorset County Museum provide an unrivalled picture of 185 million years of our area’s heritage. We’re thrilled to support these plans which will transform the museum, preserve their incredible collections and finally enable visitors to get a true insight into Dorset’s past. We look forward to seeing the plans develop.”
Cllr Peter Wharf, the Dorset County Council‘s representative on the museum’s board, said: “This is really excellent news for Dorset. The museum is a real asset for residents and visitors alike and the county council has worked closely with them to help bring in this significant injection of funds which will benefit so many people. I look forward to being involved in this exciting project to develop a first class facility.”
Robin Potter, Mayor of Dorchester says “On behalf of the Town Council and the people of the town can I express our absolute delight at the success of the Museum’s lottery bid. The project will not only allow the Museum to provide a fitting home for the storage, interpretation and research into Dorset’s fascinating history; it will also become the essential cornerstone that the town’s Tourism sector has been looking for to stimulate significantly increased interest in visiting Dorchester to explore the town’s rich cultural heritage, creating more jobs and a more diverse local economy. The Town Council is keen now to do its part in helping Dorset County Museum raise the remaining, but not inconsiderable, £3 Million needed to make the scheme a reality.”
Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: ‘This is terrific news – we are delighted that Dorset County Museum has been successful in its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’ve been supporting the museum to develop the skills and capacity they need to become more resilient and our investment has helped them plan a sustainable future with vision and confidence. Now we’re looking forward to working with staff and stakeholders as they deliver this exciting project.’