Q&A with Paul Brookes

Plans for £34m history centre in Plymouth
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Simon Stephens
Paul Brookes is the executive director for the development of Plymouth History Centre, a £34m project to move the collections from the City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, South West Image Bank, and South West Film and Television Archive to one site.

The history centre will open in 2020 when Plymouth will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims setting sail for the New World aboard the Mayflower.

The City Museum and Art Gallery, Central Library and St Luke’s Church buildings will be redeveloped and restored for the history centre. The Central Library and St Luke’s were closed and emptied earlier this year while the City Museum and Art Gallery closed at the beginning of September.

Plymouth has just secured £4.2m from Arts Council England for the scheme. The project has already been given £15.8m by the Heritage Lottery Fund, £8m from the City Council, £2.9m from the Coastal Communities Fund, £150,000 from Plymouth University and £128,000 from the Wolfson Foundation.

How important is the Arts Council England grant?

The whole project is a journey, but a significant milestone has been reached with the Arts Council England award, which recognises the integration of the museum and the arts. This is also about the city council being very ambitious at a time when most local authorities are facing austerity and cuts.

How has the support for culture from the city council developed?

There has been strong support since the decision to host the British Art Show in 2011, then Plymouth bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2017 and also through the creation of Plymouth Culture, the city’s arts and cultural development agency.

What are the key elements of the history centre?

It will bring together the unique collections and audiences in the city. It will be a museum and art gallery for the 21st century that will feature a whole range of permanent exhibitions as well temporary exhibition spaces to display some of the best contemporary art. There will be three times more space than the current museum and art gallery.

Who will visit the history centre?

The current museum has a very loyal audience, with lots of return visitors, and, because of the demographics of Plymouth, it does get those types of visitors who not usually seen as regular museum goers. The history centre will be for them, but we also want to attract the vast number of tourists who come to south-west England. We want it to be a must-see destination for them.

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