Plans to grow the West of England’s tourism economy and to provide expanded STEM learning have taken a major step forward today after receiving support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund with an initial development grant* of £600,000 towards a proposed £5m grant towards the £20m ‘Albion Dockyard Project’ initiative.
The bold Albion Dockyard Project announced by the SS Great Britain Trust is set to protect and enhance Bristol’s unique harbour heritage and ecology while transforming the Albion Dockyard with a world-class maritime attraction inside a thriving working shipyard. The Grade II listed dock itself will be conserved, maintaining a working dry dock and reinstating the original clock tower, so creating an engineering learning environment for families, schools and the SS Great Britain Trust’s pioneering Future Brunels programme. The Trust is honoured to have historian and broadcaster Professor David Olusoga as the patron of the project.
The centrepiece for the Albion Dockyard will be the recreation of a full-size version of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s first ship, the paddle steamer Great Western, which had been built in Bristol as the world’s first transatlantic ocean liner. The new addition will not only create a striking visual presence evoking the city’s role in pioneering global ocean travel, but will share stories of migration, with inclusion and access a priority, connecting historic stories with contemporary experiences.
The investment from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and support from Bristol City Council is set to unlock further funding that will not only conserve the physical heritage landscape but will share stories of migration and global travel and Bristol’s role in shipbuilding. Brunel built two great ocean liners in Bristol’s city centre docks: the SS Great Britain and the PS Great Western. Both were prototypes for all ships and liners that followed, transforming the speed, scale and reliability of global travel and transportation. And both transported people and cargo around the world, heralding monumental change and migration. The harbour today provides space for locals and visitors alike, and this project will establish the waterway as one of the country’s first voluntary marine nature reserves, enhancing habitats and maritime heritage.
The SS Great Britain Trust is the charity that runs Brunel’s SS Great Britain and the Brunel Institute, caring for the SS Great Britain on behalf of the nation along with collections comprising 70,000 objects and artefacts in the two museums and the archives. The charity runs community engagement programmes and specialist education programmes that inspire future generations of engineers, helping to address inequality and barriers into engineering and STEM careers.
Expansion of the tourism draw is projected to bring at least £8.1 million additional spend into the West of England economy every year, and to provide 189 new jobs. The learning programmes, ecological improvements and conservation will provide significant further benefits for the region. And the project will deliver benefits for communities, consulting and developing elements with them as well as collaborating with key partners including Avon Wildlife Trust, Black South West Network, City of Bristol College and the Restore Trust.
The Albion Dockyard Project has the support of Bristol City Council and West of England Combined Authority, and is set to benefit every area of the region – Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset – as it shines the spotlight on Brunel heritage and expands STEM learning in every area of our ‘Brunel Country’.
Matthew Tanner, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust, said:
“Today, the Trust is setting out plans for a world class heritage experience that will protect and transform the Albion Dockyard while providing far-reaching benefits for the harbour and the whole region, growing the tourism economy and maritime and shipbuilding industries. We’re delighted that we’ve received support thanks to National Lottery players that will make a massive difference for the whole of the West of England region and everyone who lives there, conserving vital maritime heritage and investing in the futures of our young people.”
Patricia Yates, Chief Executive of VisitBritain, said:
“Britain’s heritage is a massive tourism draw and the exciting expansion of the visitor experience over two historic dockyards will boost the West of England’s appeal to visitors and tour operators alike. It will create a world-leading maritime museum and living history experience transforming a thriving harbour with the added appeal of one of Britain’s greatest ever engineers to boot. A project of this scale and ambition will also be a much-needed hook for international markets, supporting tourism’s recovery, creating jobs and boosting the regional economy.”
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About Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is Bristol’s number one visitor attraction (TripAdvisor 2022). It is home to the world’s first great ocean liner, the SS Great Britain, the Being Brunel museum, and the Brunel Institute, which houses one of the world’s finest maritime and Brunel collections. The charity that manages and maintains Brunel’s SS Great Britain and collections is the SS Great Britain Trust.
About The National Lottery Heritage Fund
* National Lottery Heritage Fund grant applications over £250,000 are assessed in two rounds.
The Albion Dockyard Project has initially been granted round one development funding of £600,000 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, allowing the SS Great Britain Trust to progress with plans. Detailed proposals are then considered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund at second round, where a final decision is made on the full funding award of £5m.
Using money raised by the National Lottery, we inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk. Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £43 billion for projects and more than 635,000 grants have been awarded across the UK.
West of England tourism economy
Pre-Covid (2019), Bristol’s tourism and hospitality sector accounted for £1,173,997,000 in visitor spend, accounting for 10% of the city’s jobs. Bristol’s Brunel heritage and unique floating harbour draws tourists to the West of England region, with Brunel’s SS Great Britain the fourth highest-rated museum in England (TripAdvisor 2022). The West of England region (Bath and North East Somerset; Bristol; North Somerset; South Gloucestershire) drew £2,331,051,000 of visitor spend in 2019, accounting for 8% of all employment.
About the Albion Dock
The 540ft-long Grade II listed Albion Dry Dock was originally dug in 1820 and was the largest in Bristol. It was created by Charles Hill and James Hilhouse who built many ships on the site until Bristol City Docks were closed to commercial traffic in 1977. Abels Shipbuilders continued to build small ships in the dock from 1980 onwards, while the Bristol Marina was created across the rest of the Charles Hill yard. The dry dock had been derelict since the retirement of David Abels in 2016.
Ship repair and shipbuilding restarted in Bristol’s historic Albion Dry Dock in 2018 as part of a partnership between the SS Great Britain Trust and Bristol City Council.
The SS Great Britain Trust is working in association with the Albion Dock Company to provide vital repair, maintenance and shipbuilding services for larger vessels from within Bristol Harbour and beyond.
Notable ships which have been recently serviced in the dock include the tall ship, Pelican of London, and the multi award-winning live music boat venue, Thekla. The ship presently in the dry dock is Fridtjof Nansen, recently acquired by youth development charity Seas Your Future.