Final designs revealed for £2.8m Museum of Oxford transformation

Published: Tuesday, 14th November 2017

Final designs for a proposed £2.8m project to transform the Museum of Oxford, including a new fly-through video, have been revealed by Oxford City Council.

The proposed redevelopment, called Oxford's Hidden Histories, will triple the size of the existing Museum of Oxford and will increase the number of exhibits from 286 at present to 750. More than 450 of these objects have never been on permanent display before.

The new museum will feature two new galleries displaying state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits and a new space - called Museum Makers - where schoolchildren and communities will be able to handle exhibits.   

To create the new space, the Old Museum, which closed in 2011, will be reopened and knocked through into the current museum, and the areas in the basement will be redeveloped back into use. The new museum entrance will be accessed from the foyer of Oxford Town Hall.

The proposed new museum will tell the often-overlooked story of Oxford, its people and its communities through exhibits, objects and new oral histories. It has been dubbed "the people's museum".

The aim is to create an award-winning museum and heritage events space in the centre of Oxford.

Until now, only outline plans to prove the feasibility of the project had been produced.

A new programme of events and activities has also been planned in the lead up to and following the opening of the museum, including activities giving Oxford residents the opportunity to co-create new exhibitions.

The detailed designs, along with the activity programme, have been created using feedback from residents, which was received during a public consultation in summer 2017, and detailed building survey work.

The building surveys, which were carried out over the past year, discovered asbestos and damp in the basement of the Old Museum, and confirmed the cost of restoring and preserving the Grade II*-listed Oxford Town Hall. The total cost of the capital redevelopment has been confirmed as £2.8m.

The detailed redevelopment proposals will be discussed at next week’s City Executive Board meeting (21/11) and a decision will be taken on increasing the City Council’s capital contribution to the project from £315,000 to £926,654.

The City Council will submit a £1,634,710 grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) later this month (November). The City Council won £142,000 from the HLF in 2016 to fund the production of detailed redevelopment proposals.

The City Council also intends to raise £451,000 through fundraising by the museum's development trust. So far, £43,993 been raised.

The development trust was granted charity status by the Charities Commission in July, which allows it to receive gift aid, and to apply to trusts and foundations that cannot be accessed by local authorities.

Listed building consent will be submitted before the New Year. 

If consent is granted and the funding is secured, technical design elements – including locations of electricity cables and outlets, specific audio visual equipment and lift specifications – for the new museum will be confirmed in 2018 and construction will start in 2019. The hope is to open the new Museum of Oxford in 2020.

Oxford City Council began discussions with HLF about the project two years ago as a response to public demand. More than 75,000 people visit the Museum of Oxford every year, but many told the City Council that the museum was too small - especially when compared to Oxford's other museums.

A Oxford City Council objective is: “to continue to improve the opportunities for Oxford’s diverse communities to engage actively in a wide range of cultural activities”. Alongside grant funding to cultural organisations and community event organisers, the Museum of Oxford redevelopment – by increasing the number of people engaging with cultural and heritage activities – is a key approach to achieving this objective.

Councillor Dee Sinclair, Executive Board Member for Culture and Communities, said: "The new Museum of Oxford will give a voice to the stories of the individuals, communities and businesses that have built our culturally-diverse city.

“A lot of work has been happening behind the scenes to get us to this point, including winning charity status for the development trust, consultation with the public and the detailed building survey.

“We are now ready to push on with this exciting project, which will celebrate the rich, fascinating and world-famous history of our city and its people."