Portsmouth D-Day Museum announces ambitious rebuilding project, national plans

Artist impression of the D-Day renovation

Artist impression of the D-Day renovation

Back in June of 2014, Portsmouth let out a collective cheer as the D-Day Museum down on Southsea Seafront announced that they’d secured Heritage Lottery funding for the amount of £4.1million — in the very year that Portsmouth commemorated the 70th anniversary of the historic wartime event with proceedings and a Royal Visit on Southsea Common.

2014 is also the 30th anniversary of the D-Day Museum’s launch, which makes it all the more encouraging that Round 1 developmental funding of £224,000 is now about to be invested into the Museum’s vital future.

The D-Day Museum, as much a valuable asset to Southsea’s seafront legacy as it is the preservation of the stories of D-Day veterans the world over, has started detailing their plans for the site’s renovation, citing how important it is that the museum undergoes a refresh to keep D-Day sustainable and interesting for new and future generations.

Working with Portsmouth City Council, who boldly took on the far-sighted project in 1984 on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the museum will be completely transforming the exhibitions it presents through “a radical new layout and use of the most up-to-date display methods,” as the plans read.

With the 75th anniversary approaching in just five years, the Council aims to have redeveloped the museum into an experience which fully conveys the scale and drama of D-Day like never before in time for the next quarter milestone commemorations.

A whole new enhanced programme of events at the museum and other parts of Portsmouth will complement the strengthened storytelling techniques established in the overhauled museum, regaling the tales of men and women who participated in the momentous occasion.

This programme of events is scheduled in the current plan to run through to 2019, the year of the 75th anniversary, following the development’s predicted completion in 2017. The Council aims to raise educational standards through this events, making D-Day more prevalent in history classes and curriculums.

In their plan for the redevelopments, the D-Day Museum have been refreshingly honest about the ageing state of the displays, calling them one-dimensional and pointing out a lack of change since the site first launched 3 decades ago.

“Physically, its layout is confusing. Its exhibitions are old-fashioned and, strictly speaking, do not properly tell the story,” the plans read.

In the Dulverton Wing area of the museum, there is a café which doubles as a learning and activity centre, but doesn’t effectively fulfil either of the requirements.

“The presentation of the Overlord Embroidery fails to allow visitors to properly appreciate this wonderful work of art,” continues the report.

But it’s not just quality the museum is running low on — they also have a shortage of time. The generation of people who were around for D-Day and actually played a part in the event are passing on, and the window of opportunity to capture their stories and experiences is fast disappearing.

“The Museum must fulfill its role as custodian of their spirit, and, as they would want more than any others, as a forum for considering the universal realities of war itself.”

Presenting the past for the future

One of the essential aspects which the museum wants to get right is striking a fine balance between the displays both being relevant and accessible for modern audiences while remaining a fitting and deserving tribute and memorial to those who braved the battlefield.

To do that, the museum won’t just be altering the existing building or displays — they’ll be investing time and effort in a full-scale rebuild. Their plan classes the current structure as inflexible and outdated, and promises the opening up of internal spaces and the repositioning of elements of the museum such as the café.

The building will, all in all, be used more effectively, making way for larger, more dramatic, and far more immersive displays and multimedia.

Large vehicles which are already present in the museum are currently strewn untidily and thoughtlessly into their own dedicated room, the report continues, presenting a central point of the D-Day landings in a way that visitors typically won’t find very accessible or distinctive.

Visitor circulation is a key point in the museum’s plan, enhancing both the experience for those who come to see the museum and boosting the coherence and legibility of the story which is unravelled through the displays. Visits will become more memorable thanks to the inclusion of ever-changing pace and mood.

Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, the Overlord Embroidery is a huge work of art which graphically depicts the full D-Day story from 1940 through to 1944. Special care and attention will be given to the way this stunning piece will be presented, with structural work making the whole embroidery visible in its entirety.

A sturdier focus on education

In their efforts to appeal to all, the D-day Museum has been working and will continue to work closely all manner of audience groups, from the all-important veterans to families, community groups, and teachers and schoolchildren. The latter will prove useful for developing a renewed educational experience at the museum.

On top of the physical facilities and rebuilding work, this new focus on teaching will increase the museum’s delivery of formal and informal learning activities, in turn further developing its role as a key asset and resource for Portsmouth’s educational establishment, from schools through to the University.

A new pilot programme will be created to better the social engagement between the museum and the more disconnected pupils of the city who aren’t solidly aware of the museum or the stories it presents.

To aid these efforts, the museum’s report mentions more opportunities for volunteering, and also cites a partnership with the University of Portsmouth as potentially beneficial.

Collaborations with other similar institutions such as the Royal Military Academy will be sought, and an annual educational conference is also being considered.

The physical restructuring will most definitely enhance the learning experience, too, with more open spaces for immersive activities, more modern and accessible multimedia, and dedicated education rooms.

The image below shows ‘Five Beaches’, a memorial sculpture which was unveiled outside the Museum for the D-Day 70 commemorations. 

The years ahead

An ambitious but exciting project, the rebuilding of the D-Day Museum will take a couple of years. The Museum’s website currently lists a brief outline of how the plans are proposed to ahead, with October 2015 to June 2016 appointed as the months when detailed design work and tendering plans are written up.

The second round of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was applied for in June of this year (2014), will be decided on in September 2015, and once design work is completed, rebuilding work will begin in June 2016.

A soft opening will be held throughout February 2017, followed by the official relaunch in March 2017.

The regular activities will then follow from March 2017 to June 2019, when the D-Day Museum will be a key player in the organisation of the D-Day 75 commemorations.

The first stage of the plans — the project development phase — cost £276,900.

The capital costs for the actual project itself will cost £667,300 for repair and conservation work, £760,100 for new building work, £1,298,200 for new exhibitions, £237,950 for preliminary building and exhibition work,  £412,100 in professional fees, £65,000 for renovation of the café and Museum shop, and £61,000 for the acquisition costs and reproduction fees, resulting in a total capital cost of £3,501,650.

Activity costs, meanwhile, will total £525,300, consisting of additional staff costs at £180,000, training for staff and volunteers at £27,300, equipment and materials for £58,000, £102,500 for the cost of running activities, £42,500 for the organisation of the commemorative D-Day 75 events programme, £25,000 to cover the startup funding for the Overlord Embroidery UK arts project, and £90,000 for website development fees.

Other costs include publicity and promotion for £60,000, £300,000 for contingency, and £8,750 for volunteers. A number of other costs, including five years of management and maintenance brings the overall cost of the project to £4,880,260.