The top-rated visitor attraction - Brunel's SS Great Britain - now has three Brunels ready to welcome local shoppers when the shop, café kiosk and historic dockyard re-open from Thursday 3 December. With Bristol in tier three, the museums and ship’s cabins will remain closed.
The charitable trust which cares for the SS Great Britain has been hit hard by Covid-19 closures and lower capacities despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from visitors.
Shoppers will enjoy views of the ship as well as an outdoor photography exhibition. The SS Great Britain shop includes many exclusive ranges and gift ideas, with every purchase benefitting the charity. People can also support the charity by shopping online – ssgreatbritain.org.
As Brunel’s SS Great Britain – the award-winning museum in Bristol – prepares to re-open just their shop, café kiosk and dockyard (with the museums remaining closed), visitors are promised an encounter with Mr Brunel – the great engineer himself. There are now three Mr Brunels stepping into the engineer’s shoes (and stovepipe hat) with the costumed role proving incredibly popular with visitors of all ages.
The latest ‘Mr Brunel’ added to the line-up is Joe Teanby. Taking on the role fulfils a childhood dream for Joe as he first stepped aboard the SS Great Britain at nine years old, meeting his engineering hero for the first time. Joe even has a photo of that defining moment, and is thrilled to be taking on the role himself:
“My first encounter with the SS Great Britain, and of course Mr Brunel, happened when I was just 9 years old and holidaying in Bristol with my Aunty Meg. After gazing in awe at the Clifton Suspension Bridge, she took me to visit the ship, but little did I know the experience would change my life. I was captivated by the magic of it all: hooked by every sight, smell and sound.
We found ourselves on the ship’s top deck. After dinging the bell and laughing at the cow, I was suddenly greeted by the man himself, Mr Brunel. Meeting such an iconic hero in the flesh turned an already enchanting experience into a defining life moment. It feels strange to say it, but since that incredible summer’s day, I’ve had a consistent passion for all things Victorian and industrial. I studied history at university, my dissertation analysed Brunel’s role in a critical moment in British railway history and three days before I graduated, I had a job interview at the ship, successfully becoming a visitor services assistant.
I’m thrilled to now be stepping into the very role which inspired me all those years ago. To some, Mr Brunel is just a man in a costume, adding atmosphere to their visit. But to a young child like me, it could unlock the rest of your life.”
Joe is not the only staff member at the SS Great Britain to have had his life shaped by his journey with the ship and great engineer. Ryan Sanders became Mr Brunel in 2019 and has his own inspiring story:
“I joined the Trust back in 2015 as a volunteer to build my social confidence. I have a form of autism called Asperger’s which effected how I engage with people outside my household. From volunteering at the ship, I gained the social confidence I thought I would never have. Ten months later I applied to become a visitor services assistant. After a nervous job interview, I had scored my first ever job!
That role would fuel my confidence to new levels; it almost felt like I’d been given a chance of life. Little did I know just a few years down the line I would achieve my next milestone. In 2019, having come second in the national VisitBritain ‘Tourism Superstar’ awards, I decided to apply for the role of Mr Brunel and I got it! Representing one of my heroes has once again pushed my confidence to new levels. Brunel did not just change the world; he changed my world!”
The team of Mr Brunels at the SS Great Britain have been genning up on their Brunel knowledge in anticipation of re-opening to visitors. While the tier three announcement means the museums remain closed for now, Mr Brunel will be making appearances as the shop and outdoor café kiosk re-open. Joe Brunel and Ryan Brunel are pictured here with Simon Brunel (Simon Strain is active interpretation manager) at their final day of training.
Joe Teanby in his role as Mr Brunel, with the photo that changed his life at nine years old