The Jurassic Coast Trust (JCT) shares the news that the consultancy IPW has completed the initial feasibility study into a potential new museum and visitor centre for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (JCWHS).

The proposal for a new museum and centre seeks to address a key conservation need for the World Heritage Site – increasing access and long-term security for fossils from the Jurassic Coast that are currently in private collections.

IPW was commissioned to undertake research and engagement with key stakeholders and consider sustainable options for a site to develop.

This work is part of the wider Jurassic Coast Collection programme and was in part funded by the John Ellerman Foundation.

The process so far…

May 2023:

Based on findings from the Jurassic Coast Collection work programme, the JCT was able to create an initial scope for the kind of functions a new museum and centre could fulfil. Central to these were:

•   Capacity to host a new public collection of fossils from the WHS drawing on the exceptional material privately held by local collectors.

•    Temporary and permanent exhibition space dedicated to telling the unique story of the Jurassic Coast and promoting all aspects of its Outstanding Universal Value.

•    A physical focal point for visitors to the JCWHS, encouraging them to explore the wider coastline and particularly the existing range of centres, museums and attractions that act as stepping stones across the landscape and heritage of the Site.

July 2023:

Following a tender process, JCT appointed independent venue consultants (IPW Ltd www.ipw3.com )  and work commenced in July. Stakeholder consultation and desk-top studies continued until the end of October, resulting in a long-list of twenty options that were presented to the JCT and Jurassic Coast Collection working group in September.

Over 100 parties were consulted, including local museums and visitor centres, fossil collectors, scientists, national bodies & local authorities.

September/October 2023:

In September/October, the JCT staff team and a number of trustees began the process of analysing from the long-list of options, a shortlist that best addressed the needs of the WHS and its stakeholders whilst also standing a strong  chance of being achievable and sustainable.

The analysis process used a framework of thirteen criteria devised by the JCT and underpinned by the findings of the feasibility study and consultation to date. The criteria included considerations ranging from supporting scientific research to maximising economic impact. The five most important criteria were as follows

•            Avoids negative impacts on the existing museums, centres and communities along the Jurassic Coast

•            Is affordable and financially sustainable , including minimising carbon footprint

•            Enables effective telling of the story of the WHS and enhances the awareness of the Jurassic Coast

•            Includes enough capacity to address long-term security of privately-owned fossils from the JCWHS

•            Helps to improve accessibility to the JCWHS

The outcome of the analysis was a recommendation that three options were taken forward for more detailed consideration. These were;

1.           A National Collections Centre - not public facing, in partnership with another museum(s) or heritage offer; a collaboratively owned model for the benefit of the wider heritage and cultural partnerships within Dorset and East Devon. This would focus on fossil collection storage, conservation, research and education but with no exhibition space.

2.           A Strategic Partnership - a museum/centre developed in partnership with either a private company or other not-for-profit organisation within an existing facility. What could be achieved would depend entirely on the scale of any opportunities that came forward, but could include exhibition space, research facilities and storage space for a public collection.

3.           A dedicated museum - a new facility which serves all of our ambitions, at a high cost and is a long term ambition.  This option would deliver the long-term security of important fossils from the site and enable all associated research. However, whilst it represents the highest ambitions of the JCT and some stakeholders, it is the hardest to achieve in terms of cost, suitable location and financial sustainability.

Further analysis and reflection between JCT and IPW resulted in a possible preferred option that was a combination of options 1 and 2. This would involve the more achievable collections centre being in a separate location to the exhibition space, which could be a new build or hosted in an existing building depending on the available opportunities. This combination would allow the development of a novel approach to delivering the key ambitions of long term security of privately-owned fossils and the creation of a dedicated centre to the JCWHS, emphasising partnership and potentially shared ownership throughout.  

November 2023

In early November JCT was informed of a development opportunity in Weymouth using an existing building and invited to consider whether it was suitable for this project. Our initial assessment concluded that the opportunity was worth further investigation, in particular its potential for a strategic partnership project that could deliver the proposed exhibition space. JCT has since visited the property, met with the developer and has been liaising with various stakeholders to formulate next steps.

January 2024

IPW presented their feasibility report findings to our Trustee board, including the analysis of the short listed options and the potential for a combination of preferred options.

Where we are now…

JCT believes that the combined delivery of options 1 and 2 - a National Collections Centre and a Strategic Partnership museum/centre - would be the preferred  and most practical options to consider and investigate further. These may be pursued separately or concurrently as opportunities arise.

We recommend actively exploring the development opportunity in Weymouth as a basis for developing a full strategic business case. Initial analysis indicates that this specific opportunity may be more achievable within the short to medium term, i.e. at a cost of up to approx. £5 million and underway within 24 months, assuming further assessment proves it is a suitable site.

What’s next?

Since November 2023, our Chief Executive, Lucy Culkin, has attended several strategic meetings to express an interest in the  Weymouth site.

Lucy has met with a group of Weymouth stakeholders, Dorset Council councillors and strategic leads for arts and culture strategy as well as local business leaders. The potential for a new museum/centre has so far received general support, but with acknowledgement that it is a rapid and unexpected development in our project.

Lucy has also met with the developer to explore a strategic partnership between the two organisations for progression of the project at the site.

Our next steps are to secure funding to complete the strategic business case for this location, which will confirm if it is financially viable and addresses the key conservation and access aims of the WHS. We will also be continuing stakeholder consultation, specifically using this opportunity to develop our understanding of how new public collection of fossils can be created and how it will sit alongside the existing museum collection along the JCWHS.

If the site in Weymouth proves to be viable, then we will be seeking funding for a project team to complete master planning and implementing a fundraising strategy to secure the financing required to bring this project to life.

Alongside the strategic business case work relating to the Weymouth site, we will also be seeking opportunities to develop a Collections Centre in parallel. This will also be part of the forthcoming stakeholder engagement for this project.

If you would like to be kept up to date with developments, please do subscribe to our mailing list via our website.

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