Black Country Living Museum receives £9.8m HLF grant for ‘new town’

A sketch of what the new high street could look like at the Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum’s Forging Ahead project to save landmark community and commercial buildings from demolition and rebuild them at the open air museum has been awarded £9.8m from the National Lottery

The museum describes the project as ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ that will see neglected high street buildings moved brick-by-brick to the museum including West Bromwich’s Gas Showroom and Dudley’s Woodside Library – both the focus of strong community support to save them. Others, including Wolverhampton’s Elephant & Castle Pub and Lye’s Marsh & Baxter’s Butchers, will be recreated from archive material and images.

The ambitious scheme – which will create 450 jobs in the local area – will allow the museum to tell the story of the Black Country up to the closure of the Baggeridge Coal Mine in 1968.

The £21.7m BCLM: Forging Ahead project, which is also supported by ACE, forms Phase One of the Museum’s 40 year Masterplan and will see the museum expand by a third, transforming the site with this new major historic development focused on the period 1940s-1960s and improved visitor facilities.

Ros Kerslake, CEO of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Black Country Living Museum is one of the UK’s most popular open-air museums bringing knowledge of the country’s industrial past to a national and international audience. It also has a reputation for working brilliantly with local communities. These latest plans reflect an ongoing commitment to sharing the stories of those who lived in the area and who made it what it is today. Our funding, which is made possible thanks to National Lottery players, will help update the wider site making it a visitor attraction truly fit for the 21st century.”

An initial development grant of £400,000 will allow the Museum to undertake detailed planning proposals and significant historic research, firming up plans to build a new historic town.

West Bromwich gas showroom - pre WW2
Woodside Library

The number of historic buildings will increase by 34 per cent and the amount of collections on display to the public will double. The Museum will translocate, recreate and replicate key buildings from the area which reflect the lives and stories of people who lived in the Black Country during the 1940s-60s (see fact box to left for list of buildings).

As part of the plans a new contemporary visitor centre will be built with car park and the museum’s current Rolfe Street Entrance Building will be repurposed and refurbished as a contemporary learning centre and a complementary industrial learning space will be created at the heart of the site. Together, they will enhance the Museum’s capacity to deliver learning activities for over 80,000 school children a year.

These developments will provide a spring board from which to explore questions around several themes including:

  • How globalisation impacted trade and industry,
  • Legacy – contextualising the region’s continuing legacy in its rich industrial past, the impact of migration – exploring the origins of the richly diverse population we see today
  • Movement – looking at the movement of the goods and services around the world and the impact of globalisation on industry
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship – nurturing entrepreneurs and manufacturers of the future through a programme of inspirational steam activities
  • Real lives, real stories – achieving authenticity in the portrayal of the stories of the people of the Black Country through academic research and a deep understanding of the people who once lived and worked there

“This project has been three years in the making and kick-starts the Museum’s masterplan for the next 40 years,” said Lowell Williams, Chair of the Museum. “BCLM: Forging Ahead will not only allow us to complete our story, but also to create a truly world-class heritage attraction at the heart of the Black Country – something we can all be proud of. It will enable us to welcome in the region of 500,000 visitors per year, expand significantly, and most importantly improve our visitors’ experience. It will also create circa 450 jobs within our local area, so this is a really positive step for the communities we serve.”

The museum will now continue to work closely with its local communities to build a picture of post-war Black Country in order to submit a second-round application to the HLF in October 2018 to release the rest of the funding. If successful, construction will begin with a view to be completed in 2022.