Inside The Box, Plymouth's new £40 million museum and art gallery
PUBLISHED: 10:46 21 May 2019
A flagship £40 million museum and art gallery is set to transform the heart of Plymouth. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more about this pioneering project
Those of us who love local museums (me and the kids) have been counting down the months until The Box opens.
Construction began on this cutting edge interactive history centre back in 2017 after years of planning applications and various funding bids.
The complex in Tavistock Place, off North Hill, will have seven large-scale permanent galleries featuring an incredible array of the city's archives, artefacts and art collections.
Those heading up the project hope The Box, which incorporates the city's former Grade-II listed museum building, library and St Luke's Church, plus a big, new, shiny extension, will become a major regional attraction - in the same league as Cornwall's Eden Project.
It's been a long haul. A series of setbacks - including the discovery of a large basement filled with wartime rubble in the old library - has pushed up the multi-million pound budget and added to the complexity of an already ambitious project.
But the end is in sight.
This month should see work start on the first of the gallery spaces before The Box finally opens its doors in April 2020.
"It's now starting to feel very real," says Paul Brookes, chief executive. "The first three or four years were spent raising the money and then you get into more and more of the technical detail. But now we can take a hard hat tour. It feels as though the building is about to be handed back to us."
The first gallery to be fitted out is the natural history section, which will feature a full-size replica woolly mammoth, as well as pickled marine specimens, butterflies, taxidermy, birds' eggs and more.
Elsewhere in the museum, there will be an exhibition of the city's 3,000-year history as a port and 100 Journeys will tell the stories of explorers, such as Francis Drake and Charles Darwin.
Outside, 14 historic figureheads from the Royal Navy's great age of sail will guard the entrance to The Box, where the South West Image Bank, the region's film and television archive, Plymouth and West Devon record office and the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre will all soon be based.
The conversion of nearby St Luke's Church into a huge art gallery means this entire area (near the University of Plymouth) will become a one-stop culture hit.
"There will be something for everyone," says Paul, appointed to oversee the project in 2014. "We hope The Box will inspire people's creativity and curiosity and connect them with their communities.
"This is going to be an attraction for the whole region," he adds. "We want visitors to come to the South West and say: let's go to The Box, like they would say: let's go to the Eden Project."
Many agree that The Box will be an incredible asset for Plymouth, a city enjoying an intense period of regeneration and growth.
"Plymouth has been on this on this great upwards trajectory in recent years," says Paul, highlighting the opening of the Life Centre in 2012, which boosted the city's sports and leisure facilities.
"That's been great but I think now Plymouth is looking forward to being able to get to the next level in terms of its cultural offering."
The city's previous much-loved museum brought in 100,000 visitors every year. It's hoped The Box will attract more than 250,000 once it opens next spring, in time for the Mayflower 400 celebrations.
"I'll be 12 by then," said my son Jake, way back in 2016 when I told him about the plans. That seemed such a long way off. But good museums come to those who wait.