Dorset Museum is OPEN!

May 28, 2021

The long-awaited opening of the Dorset Museum is here, after the £16.4 million redevelopment that started in October 2018.

Dr Jon Murden stands in front of the Museum
We are open!! Dr Jon Murden stands in front of the Museum

The new Museum has four new permanent galleries, a special exhibitions gallery, collections centre, library, shop, and cafe.

The project has got to this stage thanks to a £12.4million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, £750,000 from Arts Council England and £500,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

The impressive new Museum has brought together a number of people to reach this milestone. Key players have included local firm Acheson Construction, who built the new extension added on to the historic wing. Real Studios’ have developed the Museum galleries with Dorset’s stories and Museum collection cleverly interpreted with state of the art displays. Installation specialists ‘The Hub’ have also helped bring the galleries to life.

More of the Museum’s internationally significant collections of archaeology, art, literature, geology, natural and social history is on display than ever before.

Reimagined galleries have been designed and curated to inspire, with Dorset’s stories creatively interpreted using beautiful, objects, hands-on interactive displays, and stunning audio-visual presentations. All contained within an architecturally striking, environmentally sustainable new building.

As you enter the new Museum one of the star attractions is the Fordington High Street Roman mosaic which has been shortlisted for the Restoration Conservation Project of the Year in this year’s Museums & Heritage Awards. The mosaic has been con­ served, re-backed and installed by Cliveden Conservation.

Galleries include Natural Dorset which reveals the secrets of Dorset’s geology, landscapes, habitats and wildlife. Peo­ple’s Dorset begins with the story of the Paleolithic, travelling across half a million years of human history, through Bronze age gold, finds from Iron Age Maiden Castle, right up to the development of nuclear technology at Winfrith in the post-war era. The four themed rooms in Hardy’s Dorset draw on the world’s largest Thomas Hardy collection, which is on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Artists’ Dorset has a display of sculptures, prints, drawings, textiles and fine decorative art all shown to stunning effect, and includes sculptures and art by Elisabeth Frink.

The new Museum also places accessibility at the heart of the visitor experience with wheelchair access, toilets, baby changing facilities, and Changing Places Toilet.

Taste cafe who already has a successful outlet in Dorchester and at the Chesil Beach Visitors Centre, Portland will be running the stylish new cafe, serving daily a menu of fresh food and drinks.

The Museum is now established as the major cultural destination within Dorset – a place for people from the county and world to connect with 250 million years of Dorset’s history.

Dorset Museum Executive Director, Dr Jon Murden said “It is extremely satisfying to have got to this point and be on the verge of revealing our new Museum to the world. A true visitor destination in its own right, it is a game-changer for cultural heritage and tourism in Dorset. Despite all the challenges we have faced, the team here has never lost faith in our vision to reimagine and re-invigorate Dorset’s Museum, securing its future and the future of its globally important collections for generations to come.

We can’t wait now to finally open our doors on 28th May and play our part in the recovery that Dorset is sure to experience this summer as we gradually emerge from lockdown.”

Dorset Museum Director of Collections and Public Engagement, Elizabeth Selby said:

“We’re delighted to have our doors back open again so that visitors can explore our transformation. Our newly designed galleries are full of stunning objects, films, and hands-on interactives that together tell the incredible story of Dorset over 250 million years. We think there will be something here to inspire and interest everyone, and we can’t wait to see you.”

Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, Andy Fleets said “Wholly transforming the museum would have been a tremendous achievement at any time. Undertaking and completing the work through lockdown is a breathtaking achievement by all those involved. The Dorset Museum now tells stories of Dorset and its 250 million years old heritage for all our visitors whom I hope will find enjoyment, fun and some wonder in the stunning new exhibitions.”

Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Stuart Mcleod said “We are thrilled the Dorset County Museum is officially reopening after such a challenging year and we are looking forward to visiting this cultural destination, whose artefacts narrate over 250 million years of Dor­set’s history. Thanks to National Lottery players, the museum will bring world-class exhibitions to the local area, while developing its role as a cultural and community hub for a wider range of people.”

Philippa Charles, Garfield Weston Foundation said “The Trustees are delighted to have supported the project and to see the new the Dorset Museum through to its opening. We hope that visitors are inspired by the collections, brought to life through stories in the imaginative new galleries. All at the Museum have worked extremely hard to bring this project to fruition and we look forward to hearing about further successes”

Acheson Construction, Group Operations Director, Colin Johnson said ”Acheson Construction are delighted to hand this iconic building back to Dorset Museum. Delivering such an important community project that will enable the Museum to continue their vital work preserving Dor­ set’s rich heritage has been a privilege. We are immensely proud of what we have achieved in collaboration with a dedicated project team and look forward to this fabulous facility being enjoyed by its new and re­ turning visitors for many years to come.”

The Hub, Managing Director, Richard Coughlin said “As exhibition fit-out contractor for the Tomorrow’s Museum for Dorset scheme, our team took great pride in undertaking the works and delivering Dorset Museums and Real Studio’s vision. The passion and collab­ oration of The Hub and professional team – Dorset Museum, Real Studios, Peter Gunning and Partners LLP and Acheson Construction, has been shown from the outset with the team overcoming the challenges of a national pandemic throughout the project’s delivery. As we look across the three floors of the museum, the quality of craftsmanship and achievements of the team are outstanding. We cannot wait for visitors to ex­plore and learn about the rich cultural heritage of Dorset!”

Director Real Studios, Yvonne Golds said “Some projects have it all and this is one of them. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be involved in the design and interpretation ensuring we deliver a coherent, accessible and fascinating experience for all visitors across the old and new buildings and really bringing to life the Museum’s amazing stories and outstanding collection.”