BCLM Makes History by Forging Ahead

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Black Country Living Museum is delighted to announce that major works on its major capital development BCLM: Forging Ahead – the largest project in its history – will begin this month.

The project represents a £30m investment in the local community, made possible with support from funders including the Department of Culture Media and Sport’s Capital Kickstart Fund via the Culture Recovery Fund, National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership. 

 Twenty-two historic buildings and structures will be constructed on the Museum site in phase one of Forging Ahead, making it BCLM’s largest single development project since opening in 1978.  Forging Ahead encompasses a brand-new visitor centre and learning spaces, plus an industrial quarter – which will showcase Black Country industry at the height of its post-war manufacturing prowess.  The centrepiece of the project is the 1940s-60s town, which will herald the social and political changes experienced by the Black Country during one of the most dynamic times in its history.

 The 1940s-60s town will include an NHS clinic, a record shop, a barber’s, and Co-operative supermarket, and will create an immersive experience of everyday life during the period.  Two of the most notable buildings to feature in the town are Woodside Library from Holly Hall in Dudley and the Elephant & Castle pub that once dominated the corner of Stafford Street and the Cannock Road in Wolverhampton.  The Library will be translocated brick-by-brick to its new home at the Museum and, using detailed archival research, the Pub will be re-created within the new historic town at BCLM so that it can grace a Black Country skyline once more. 

 With major investment in place from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the project was originally due to commence early in 2020, but was delayed due to Coronavirus.  Support from the Capital Kickstart Fund as part of the Culture Recovery Fund via the Department of Culture Media and Sport now means that works disrupted as a result of the pandemic can go ahead.  Balfour Beatty have been appointed as the project’s contractor and will begin major works in February 2021.  Napier Clarke have designed the new visitor centre, with Glancy Nicholls Architects working on the historic development. 

The Museum’s new visitor centre is scheduled to open from early 2022 and the 1940s-60s historic town and industrial quarter will welcome visitors in 2023.  The development will expand the Museum’s footprint by about a third and increase its capacity to welcome around 500,000 visitors per year by 2026.

 Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, said:

“From restoring Georgian lidos and Roman baths to saving local screens and synagogues, our Culture Recovery Fund is helping to save the places people can’t wait to get back to, when it is safe to do so.

 “All over the country, this funding is protecting the venues that have shaped our history and make us proud of our communities, whilst safeguarding the livelihoods of the people that work in them.”

 Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“These are all ongoing major refurbishment and restoration projects, funded by us, which have been threatened by the pandemic. From the oldest surviving outdoor swimming baths to a Victorian pier, and from a much-loved park to an historic abbey, these are all places that will enrich hundreds of lives when they reopen. We are delighted this extra funding from the Culture Recovery Fund will ensure that these exciting projects will go ahead.”

 Marco Longhi MP, said:

“This really is a significant investment for a world-renowned site, which we are lucky to have on our doorstep. I believe the Forging Ahead project shows the importance of building on the historic success of the Museum and forging an even better future. I can’t wait to visit again soon.” 

 Andrew Lovett, BCLM Chief Executive, said:

“Forging Ahead is now more important than ever to the future of Black Country Living Museum.  Thanks to the investment we’ve received from the Culture Recovery Fund and our other funders, we’re able to invest in growing the Museum and bringing the Black Country story to new audiences.  The modern Black Country with its rich global connections and diversity of people is the enduring legacy of the 1940s-60s.  Forging Ahead provides a stage on which we can share new stories and celebrate the contribution of everyone who came to call the Black Country home during this remarkable period of our region’s history. 

 “As the biggest single development in our 43-year history, Forging Ahead gives us the momentum to thrive once again for our community following the unprecedented difficulties presented by the pandemic.  Forging Ahead is not just about exploring the past, it’s also about making a positive difference to the future of this community too.  The project will help to create more than 140 new jobs in the local area and, by 2032, contribute an extra £102.5m of economic benefit.”

 Paul Belford, Chair of the Board of BCLM Trustees, said:

“We’re delighted that major works on this historic project have finally begun.  The 1940s-60s were a landmark period in the history of the Black Country and we’re excited to share the stories we’ve discovered about this extraordinary time of economic boom and social change.  Forging Ahead will enable us to connect with people for whom the 1940s-60s is within their living memory, and also introduce younger generations to this period of dramatic change that has done so much to shape our world today.”

 Glenis Williams, Community Engagement Manager at BCLM, said:

“Forging Ahead is about so much more than just bricks and mortar: it’s about connecting people to the stories we’re discovering from the 1940s-60s. It’s about revealing hitherto hidden histories and representing the diversity of the Black Country.  It’s also about finding creative ways to support the health and wellbeing of our community.  For example, using the power of reminiscing about the 1940s-60s to amplify our work with Alzheimer’s and dementia groups.  I’m excited about the impact Forging Ahead will have on helping us to deliver even more for our community.”