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Brunel Institute celebrates 1st Birthday

First Birthday celebrations are taking place for the world-class archive, library and education centre – better known as the Brunel Institute – on November 29.

The £6 million Brunel Institute is sited alongside the historic ship and museum attraction Brunel’s ss Great Britain, in Bristol. It was officially opened by the eminent scientist and BBC presenter Professor Lord Winston last year.

Managed by the ss Great Britain Trust, it is free to all users. Staff and volunteers have welcomed more than 2,200 local residents, visitors, academics and researchers, and its educational work has already benefited more than 7,000 children from pre-school to secondary level.

Other highlights of the last 12 months include a visit in October from the Trust’s Patron HRH The Duke of York; the success of the ‘Archive in Five’ initiative which regularly showcases a rare treasure from the collection; and earlier this month the Brunel Institute building received its first award from the Bristol Civic Society Environmental Awards.

The Brunel Institute marks a major achievement for the ss Great Britain Trust, a registered charity and independent museum. It follows the completion of an £11.3 million conservation and restoration programme and the museum attraction’s re-launch in 2005 as the multi award-winning ‘Brunel’s ss Great Britain’.

The Brunel Institute’s key features are the:

  • National Brunel Archive – a collaboration between the Trust and the University of Bristol – which houses rare engineering drawings, photographs, and diaries;
  • David MacGregor Library, with its specialist maritime collection;
  • Foyle Reading Room, above the library, and Kirby Laing Suite;
  • Conservation Suite, where books, documents, and ship’s plans are painstakingly cleaned and catalogued.

The Brunel Institute holds approximately 67,000 items, including 4,500 maritime, engineering and ship-building books; more than 7,000 ship plans; 250 ship models; 35,000 maritime photographs; passenger and crew diaries and letters; more than 150 films; and Lloyd’s Register volumes dating back to the 1700s.

Equally important are the Brunel Institute’s extensive educational programmes, supported by The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust (The LRET), with significant additional support from the Society of Merchant Venturers.

To date, staff and volunteers at the Brunel Institute have recorded:

  • The first ‘Future Brunels’, a cohort of 12 schoolchildren who receive unique engineering and science experiences and opportunities on a five-year programme;
  • 5,150 pupils taking part in a ‘Brunel Badge’ workshop;
  • 1,400 children using the ‘Brunel Badge Loan Boxes’, through out-of-school groups and clubs such as the Scouts and Brownies;
  • Eight school groups from Bristol’s less well-off areas, using the ‘Golden Ticket’ scheme which covers coach travel, a Brunel Badge workshop, and return visits for children and their families;
  • 500 pre-school children in the ‘Sea-Hear’ storytelling sessions.

This is in addition to almost 9,000 children who come to Brunel’s ss Great Britain on self-led school visits every year.

The Brunel Institute also houses the state-of-the-art Viridor Theatre, which is available for conferences and helps meet the cost of caring for the ss Great Britain; and new Visitor Centre for the multi award-winning attraction, which includes a ticket office and shop.

Director of the ss Great Britain Trust Matthew Tanner MBE, commented: “The Brunel Institute is celebrating its first year as a world-class archive, library, and provider of exciting educational programmes. The Brunel Institute encourages education at every level and provides a valuable resource for all who are interested in maritime history, the ss Great Britain, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

“The building, which recently won its first award, has also delivered a modern Visitor Centre for the attraction and the state-of-the-art Viridor Lecture Theatre.”

Mr Tanner added: “Most importantly, we are delighted with the feedback that we have received from the Brunel Institute’s users, ranging from academics, researchers and local residents, to teachers, parents and children, and venue hire guests.

“Working in close collaboration with the University of Bristol, and with the generous support of funders, we are continuing to develop the Trust’s public educational work and are adding to its collections both within the National Brunel Archive and the David MacGregor Library.”

Funding for the Brunel Institute has come from The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust (The LRET), Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, Foyle Foundation, the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Medlock Charitable Trust, Kirby Laing Foundation, Wolfson Foundation, J. Paul Getty Jnr. Charitable Trust, Biffaward, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the estates of David MacGregor and of April Thornton, The University of Bristol, Linden Homes Western, plus a members’ and supporters’ appeal backed by the Bristol Evening Post. The Brunel Institute also receives supported from the Brunel Institute Corporate Academy members – Airbus UK, Babcock International Group, BMT Defence Services, Renishaw, Rolls-Royce, Wessex Water and Stannah Lift Services.

The ss Great Britain Trust has worked with partners including Bristol City Council, and the University of Bristol and the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, which own part of the archive material housed in the Brunel Archive.

The Trust worked closely with Linden Homes and architects Stride Treglown on the Brunel Institute’s external design, which boldly references Brunel’s original steamship engine factory destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Architect David Mellor with colleagues at Alec French Architects advised the Trust on design. Build work was undertaken by Linden Homes and fit-out by Bray & Slaughter Ltd. Richard Baister of Eura Conservation and Quantity Surveyor Paul Chappell provided project management assistance.