Steelwork flying up at new Spitfire gallery
Written by Jane Lythgoe on 20 September 2020
Work on the stunning new glass gallery that is set to become home to the city’s Spitfire has hit new heights – in the same week the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain is commemorated nationally.
Large sections of steelwork on the £6.5 million museum extension can now be seen rising above the hoardings next to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in the city centre, as the regeneration project gathers pace.
The new 3,800 sq ft gallery will feature glass walls at the front and back, so the public can see the plane lit up at night, and is set to become one of the area’s top attractions when finished.
Stoke-on-Trent’s RW388 Spitfire, which was first donated to the city in 1972, is currently out of the Potteries being painstakingly restored by aircraft preservation specialists, who recently re-added the camouflage livery to the fuselage. It is anticipated the aircraft will be on show to the public in its new home next summer.
Cllr Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, infrastructure and heritage, said: “This is a game changer for Stoke-on-Trent and a great reminder that despite all the challenges coronavirus has thrown our way, the city is still moving forward, and I think that sends out a really positive message for the future.
“The Spitfire is such a key part of our city’s heritage and we are very proud of our direct link to the most famous plane of the Second World War. This project is a great example of heritage-led regeneration and when it is finished, it will really add a new dimension to the city centre’s offer and take it up another level.
“The design of the new gallery is fantastic and it’s not an exaggeration to say it wouldn’t look out of place in any city. The large glass panels at the front and back of the extension will make it a standout feature to passers-by and provide a stunning platform for the iconic aircraft.”
Cllr Lorraine Beardmore, cabinet member for culture, leisure and public health, said: “This will become one of the top, free-to-visit attractions in the area where history, culture and education are all promoted and celebrated. The Spitfire is just one example of our city’s rich history and this new extension at the museum will be a fitting home to the iconic aircraft that is currently being restored to its former glory. It will become a focal point in the city centre for visits and events for the next 50 years and more.
“The gallery will use interactive technology to really bring history to life. Young people will visit and be inspired by Reginald Mitchell to go on and achieve great things themselves and realise that anything is possible in life. This is about celebrating a big part of the city’s heritage, making history accessible to younger generations, and enhancing our tourism offer.”
As well as showcasing the plane itself, there will be a simulator in the gallery so people can experience what it would have been like to pilot the aircraft. One wall of the gallery will also be used to project images about the plane and its designer, Reginald Mitchell, who was born and educated in North Staffordshire before becoming one of the greatest aeronautical engineers of his generation. Specially designed hoardings charting the life of Reginald and the history of the city’s Spitfire have been put up around the site while building work takes place.
The interpretation and interactive technology within the gallery is being funded by the city council’s partners, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; and the Wolfson Fund. Further funding totalling £45,000 was also raised with help from Operation Spitfire, The Friends of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, and through visitors’ donations.
Julian Mitchell, Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell’s great-nephew and a member of Operation Spitfire, said: “The aim of Operation Spitfire is ‘inspiration through restoration.’ The new gallery is most apt as a permanent new home for RW388 and encapsulates the Spitfire’s acclaimed unique selling points – iconic design and extreme effectiveness of purpose. We applaud the gallery design team for accomplishing a two-fold task so magnificently – delivering an inspirational environment for RW388 and complimenting further the aircraft’s beauty and artistry.
“Inside this new space, Operation Spitfire will continue to work with the museum to create an environment that both effectively informs and inspires visitors, along with clear sign posting into further action, for example towards a future career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We will continue to work with all our partners to ensure the museum is a place where history creates a desire for betterment and excellence in future generations.”
The extension is being designed and built by Morgan Sindall Construction. The museum’s café is also being updated with improvements to the walls, ceiling and new flooring as part of the work. Rob Cant, scape framework director at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We are excited to celebrate the start of work with the council and all of our project partners. We are working with a diverse and highly-skilled local supply chain on this development, and look forward to seeing it take shape.”