Brunel Museum unveils ambitious redevelopment plans - Museums Association

Brunel Museum unveils ambitious redevelopment plans

National Lottery Heritage Fund awards £1.85m towards community-led reinvention project
Funding
A cropped illustration of the new welcome area of the Brunel Museum following its redevelopment
A cropped illustration of the new welcome area of the Brunel Museum following its redevelopment

The Brunel Museum in London has received lottery funding for a three-year reinvention project that will see a new welcome pavilion installed, the restoration of the site’s Engine House and other spaces redeveloped to prioritise inclusion and access.

It will complete in 2025 in time to celebrate 200 years since the work began on Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel running from Rotherhithe to Wapping – this first ever tunnel to run underneath a river. The scheme has secured a £1.85m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Over the next three years, the Engine House will be restored and equipped with a platform lift. A new gallery will also be created telling the story of the Brunel family using technology such as augmented reality.

Illustration of the redevelopment plans

The museum will also create a new welcome area with accessible facilities and a shop and cafe. A collection of 30 watercolours of the Thames Tunnel painted by the Brunels and buried in a family album for almost 200 years will also go on display for the first time.

In order to complete the capital works, the museum will close to visitors between autumn 2023 and spring 2024.

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The museum will run community and educational programmes while the physical redevelopment takes place. These include free events in two outdoor spaces, Tunnel Shaft Garden and the adjacent piazza, and a tour to local venues such as Millwall Football Club.

A paid trainee role will be created for a young person from a disadvantaged background and work experience will be organised through Lewisham Southwark College for young people with special needs.

“The Thames Tunnel is where Isambard Kingdom Brunel learnt his trade from his father, so it is only fitting as part of the project there’s a big focus on education,” said Katherine McAlpine, the director of the Brunel Museum.

“We’re thrilled to provide a traineeship and work experience and will also be working with primary school history and Stem learning programmes. We’re hoping by enabling more people to learn about the amazing story of the Brunels, we can inspire the next generation of engineers.”

The funding announcement comes a few weeks after the Heritage Fund announced £13.7m funding for six projects, including Leeds Culture Trust and Blyth Tall Ship in Northumberland.

Stuart McLeod, director for England (London and south) at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said its grant to the Brunel Museum would help “futureproof” its offer following the Covid pandemic.

“We are delighted to support the Brunel Museum to help it transform its spaces and experience for future visitors – whether from the local schools, the wider community or further afield.

"Not only will it restore historic buildings, but it will also create an accessible space where people can come to discover the stories of one of the most important historic families to revolutionise our cities. Investing in heritage such as this means that a wider range of people can be involved in heritage. This is an essential outcome for all of the projects we support.”

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