Bold plans to create a £21m Blackpool Museum inside the Winter Gardens look set to become a reality after Lottery chiefs today endorsed the resort’s bid for funding.
The scheme to transform the Pavilion Theatre inside the complex into a heritage-based visitor attraction has secured an initial Lottery Heritage grant of £1.2m, and has been earmarked to receive the full £13.6m.
Match-funding plans are in place to secure the rest of the money, with the council having already allocated £2m of its own funds.
Blackpool is one of just six projects nationally to be granted funding in today’s announcement, alongside Canterbury Cathedral, Nottingham Castle, Bath Abbey, the Beamish Museum, and Plymouth’s History Centre.
The Blackpool Museum will tell the story of the world’s first working class seaside resort and as well as displaying the council’s own collections, there will be space for temporary exhibitions including from the prestigious V&A in London.
A total funding pot of £1.6m for the development phase is available with contributions from the council (£240,000) and volunteers (worth the equivalent of £137,000).
Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “We want to do something completely unique that you would only experience here.
“It will not be a conventional museum – it will be a dynamic and celebratory space - a blend of museum, visitor attraction and theatre, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance.
“It will have a strong personality with a memorable and distinctive take which is true to the lively spirit of Blackpool.”
He said the fact the project had been allocated development funding indicated Lottery chiefs thought highly of the idea.
He added; “It is less then a year ago that I sat down with senior officers and said we had to have a museum.
“We put a bid in this year and we thought the Lottery would probably say no but come back again next year.
“So I am absolutely delighted we have got the £1.2m and we now have 18 months to use that money to demonstrate there is a solid business case to do this.
“There is a high risk around a project like this, but the funding gives us the opportunity to buy in the expertise we need to ensure we get it right.
“Culture and heritage really complement tourism and we believe the museum will bring in a slightly different clientele and add even more to the mix.”
Sara Hilton, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “We’re delighted to be giving our initial support for this project that marks the culmination of hard work and dedication from a variety of partners, most importantly from the council, whose recognition of the importance of Blackpool’s heritage and collections and how these can play a central role in the town’s wider regeneration, have helped create these truly visionary plans.
“Getting volunteers involved has been another vital piece of the puzzle and something that has gone a long way to securing Blackpool’s heritage offer and ensuring the important involvement of local people from the start.”
Joan Humble, chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust, said the award proved Blackpool’s heritage was being taken seriously at a national level.
She said: “We now need to use this development money to make sure the museum is created in the best interests of the residents of Blackpool as well as our visitors.
“It is a clear indication organisations like the Heritage Lottery Fund and others are taking Blackpool seriously.
“When they come to the town and see the Winter Gardens, they understand this is a town that deserves to celebrate itself in a museum but the museum has to be one that is exciting and interesting and involves local people and their stories, as well as the famous stars that come to Blackpool.”
Heritage grants applications are assessed in two rounds.
A first-round pass, which is what Blackpool has achieved, is given when the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding.
Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed.
Chief executive of HLF Carole Souter said: “These projects will enhance and re-energise some of England’s best-loved places. They will build on the stories of the past and offer new opportunities for the future.
“Every year the Heritage Lottery Fund looks at a number of applications for major projects requesting £5m or more of our money.
“Demand for 2014 was higher than ever. We’ll be working closely with all six of our successful applicants as they develop their plans.”
Coun Blackburn added: ““This is absolutely the right time for a museum of this type in Blackpool.
“We are in danger of losing the wonderful memories from the older generation who have lived and holidayed here over the years.
“Blackpool’s heritage is about people and their stories. Introduce Blackpool into the conversation virtually anywhere in the UK and the stories flow – always intensely personal, often funny, slightly quirky and strangely bizarre.
“It is this delightful, rich, community memory which brings our heritage so vividly alive.”
During the 18 month development stage 10 jobs will be created to carry out three main objectives; building a solid foundation – consisting of the development of the business case and strategic plan for the museum: creating the museum – preparing for capital works by carrying out in depth surveys, public engagement and consultation, collecting stories and developing concepts, and raising the projects profile – talking to partners and the local community to develop communication plans.
Blackpool Council applied for Lottery funding for the museum last October.
In the past the town has applied for World Heritage Site status but got turned down.