Empty Dundee factory set to become new comic museum

An artist's impression of the planned museum. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the planned museum. Picture: Contributed
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For more than a half a century it was where millions of Beano, Dandy, The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals were made.

Now a vast empty printworks in Dundee is set to become home to a comic museum under plans for a £17.5 million transformation over the next decade.

The present empty site where the comics and annuals were produced. Picture: Contributed

The present empty site where the comics and annuals were produced. Picture: Contributed

Live music events, visual art exhibitions, theatre productions, festivals and conferences would also be staged in the historic West Ward Works.

Work is set to get under way within months on the first phase of a project expected to create 1,100 jobs and boost Dundee’s economy by more than £50m over ten years.

The project’s backers hope it will be one of the biggest cultural projects to benefit from support from a ‘Tay Cities Deal’ between the UK and Scottish governments, which is hoped to be approved within the next few months.

Under a proposed timetable for the project, the first permanent occupants could be in by early next year and the first major phase of work completed by 2020. Workshops, studios and offices for artists, cultural organisations, videogame developers and other creative industries are planned as part of the development.

It is thought up to 300 people could end up working in the building, which is close to both the Verdant Works – the award-winning attraction celebrating the city’s history of textile production – and Dundee University’s main campus.

The two-storey comic museum at West Ward Works would showcase highlights from the archives of publishers DC Thomson, which still owns the building. Other permanent features would include a civic square, “monumental sculptures” and a permanent cafe-bar and restaurant.

A charitable trust was set up last year to pursue the plans for West Ward Works, which operated from 1949 to 2010.

Project director David Cook said: “The V&A is fantastic and has already had a huge impact on Dundee, but it’s the start, not the end of a process. This is really about what happens next and we hope it will be very much seen as something complementary to the V&A. We’ve spent the last year working on an architectural masterplan and a ten-year vision for the building.

“The main focus of West Ward Works will be as a cultural hub. As well as the comic museum, one side of the building will have space for major exhibitions, live music, festivals, events and conferences. The other will be a working and making campus.

“The comic centre would explore Dundee’s role in the story of the comic book, including the titles produced in the city and the people who worked on them. It was originally proposed for the waterfront, but this is now the preferred location.

“The waterfront is incredible, but there has been a lot of discussion about widening the city’s appeal for visitors. If attractions are dispersed around, it’ll encourage people to stay longer and spend more in shops, bars and restaurants.

“We want to ensure West Ward Works has a major impact on the social fabric of Dundee. It should be an engine for new jobs, particularly for disadvantaged and young people. We’ll be looking to create a lot of opportunities in the creative, leisure hospitality and construction industries.

“The project will need to grow organically because of its scale, as it’s a very large site. It will be built out as Dundee’s creative community grows and develops, but it will also help grow that community and will have a huge role in retaining talent in the city.”

Blair Thomson, chair of the West Ward Works Trust, said: “We’re in an amber light situation with the project, but we’re getting ready to go. We’ve done a lot of thinking and design work. We’re applying for a building warrant and we’re in the process of raising funding.

“Everything seems to fit in terms of creating a comic museum in West Ward Works. It has a very strong heritage link, it’s the right size for the project and it’s very close to Verdant Works. It’s very important that people don’t just get stuck down in the waterfront area in future. One idea is to run a bus service between the main attractions like other cities have.”