MOSTLY hidden from the public apart from pre-arranged tours, the National Museums of Scotland’s collections stores is a world-class treasure trove to rival the Natural History Museum in London.
But now its 20-year-old Granton facility on Edinburgh’s waterfront – packed with four million items ranging from ancient bones to traction engines, precious bowls to fragile banners – is to undergo a major overhaul, thanks to a £9 million injection from the Scottish Government.
The move comes partly in exchange for the museums moving its stores at a former First World War naval hospital at Port Edgar, near South Queensferry, after the site was earmarked for part of the new Forth bridge development.
Culture minister Fiona Hyslop has agreed to bankroll the move after museums bosses made the case for a range of improvements at the Granton stores, including facilities for research and conservation, increased capacity to help expand the collections, and greater public access.
An announcement of the grant will be made this week to coincide with the opening of an International Culture Summit in Edinburgh.
The Port Edgar deal is believed to be the first major payment made by the government to smooth the path for the building of the new Forth crossing.
Port Edgar was built in 1918, as the First World War ended, as barracks serving the nearby naval base and later became the main Royal Navy minesweeping training base in Scotland.
It is the longest-running of the NMS’s collections stores, having been taken over in 1975, while the Granton facility dates back to 1992.
Three post-war buildings at the existing collections stores at Granton – where demobilised military personnel were trained in building trades – are to be demolished to make way for a new state-of-the art storage facility. Leading architect Gareth Hoskins, who masterminded the transformation of the Victorian-era Royal Museum building in Edinburgh, which was unveiled last year after a £47 million transformation, has won a contract to produce a new masterplan for the complex, including the new building.
New conservation and storage facilities have been opened up at Granton in the past four years, partly to accommodate the relocation of old storage facilities at the flagship museum on the capital’s Chambers Street.
The new improvements will see the run-down military training buildings at Granton – which was managed by the now defunct Ministry of Labour after the war – replaced with a new eco-friendly building, boasting special light and heat settings for its various sections, depending on what is stored in each.
Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences, said: “It should make a huge difference for us. The three existing buildings on the site at Granton are just not fit for purpose and the storage facility at Port Edgar is an old naval hospital dating back to the First World War, which we’ve just emptied 20,000 items from.
“We need much better facilities for people coming in to carry out research here and we could also do with much more space to allow us to accept more items into the collections.”
Gordon Rintoul, director of NMS, said: “Historically our collections have been stored across a range of sites in the Edinburgh area.
“We are very grateful to the Scottish Government for this investment which will not only enable us to vacate the Port Edgar site but also provide new sustainable, purpose-built facilities that are suitable for the national collections, staff and the public.”
News of the collections centre expansion has emerged just weeks after the Heritage Lottery Fund announced it was backing a further revamp of the National Museum of Scotland complex on Chambers Street.
A £4.85m grant will help pay for eight new galleries, which are due to be completed by 2016.
Demolition work on the old buildings at Granton is expected to begin within months to allow the new facilities to be ready by the spring of 2015.
Hyslop said: “The National Museums are a jewel in Scotland’s cultural crown, giving access to a diverse range of extraordinary collections, providing must-see experiences and showcasing Scotland’s remarkable contributions to the world. It is most appropriate that this announcement is made as we prepare to host the first-ever International Culture Summit in Edinburgh, bringing together culture ministers from countries from across the globe to experience Scotland’s rich cultural offering.
“The funding will support plans to replace outdated buildings with new facilities to store exhibits, improving the museums’ efficiency in preserving items in its collections and making them more accessible.
“This additional funding reaffirms the Scottish Government’s strong commitment to the development of our national collections.”
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, which organises Doors Open Day in Edinburgh, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news.
“The tours we organise with the collections centre are hugely over-subscribed whenever they are in our programme and we often have a lot of very disappointed people. In a way, it is a tragedy that so much is hidden away from the public, so anything that changes that will be hugely welcome.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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