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Being Brunel: Six months to go!

9 October 2017

I thought it wasn’t possible to be more excited about Being Brunel, but I was wrong.  After five years’ work on the project, now there’s only six months to go before the new museum opens. There’s a palpable sense of excitement across the whole organisation, and particularly in the Interpretation, Collections and Education team. If we could copy the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and do a haka, the dance they do before a match to inspire them to win, we would. Obviously, we’d have to do it wearing stovepipe hats.

We’ve been working hard and steadily, but now there’s a real sense of the pace accelerating.  All of a sudden it’s like that moment on the runway where, after taxiing gently, the pilot revs up the engine and the plane roars up into the sky, and the G-force thrusts the passengers back against their seats.  One of the most exciting things is that parts of the museum that have been ideas so far are now becoming real: the beautiful cases with their inlaid brass trims; the juddering replica broad gauge carriage that visitors can climb into; and above all the building itself, which has all the presence and atmosphere we could have hoped for – and it’s not even quite finished.

Work is going on right across the organisation to get ready for opening. Conservators have been working to get the objects ready for display, carefully stabilizing them and making sure they look their best. Many of these objects, such as Brunel’s cigar case, have never been on public view before, so we want them to look their best.

We’re also finalising the text for the interpretation panels, and there’s a sense of having to sum up 5 years’ research into Brunel in what feels like very few words. How do we put across the deep knowledge we now have of the man? Five years ago, the only Brunel I knew was the confident, aloof engineer in the famous photograph, taken in front of the Great Eastern ship’s chains. Now he’s leapt into 3-D and I know that he was great company, the life and soul of the party, troubled by self-doubt, had a passion for Shakespeare and amateur dramatics, and he snored. I want visitors to come on the same journey of discovery that I’ve been on, compressed from 5 years into a single visit to Being Brunel.

After 5 years’ research we now have to present the Brunel we’ve uncovered, in all his talented, flawed, fascinating and complex glory. I feel that he has reached out of the past and shaken my hand, and I can’t wait to give visitors that same feeling. Six months until opening – bring it on!

Author: Rhian Tritton, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education