Great Expectations renovation project will start in April 2012

Four years after the first proposals were made for the launch of a £3.2m redevelopment project, the Charles Dickens Museum is pleased to announce that sufficient funds have been raised to allow the refurbishment and expansion of the museum to begin. The museum will close for refurbishment from 9th April 2012 until December 2012 in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas in the novelist’s bicentenary year.

Great Expectations is a complex project designed to address the long-term needs of the Museum: it will restore two listed buildings that require structural repairs and strengthening to cope with increasing visitor numbers; it will improve access to the Museum for its users, making it a better experience for a wider range of people who want to learn about Dickens; it will expand our capacity to offer a range of activities, introducing facilities for learners of all ages and backgrounds; and it will reinterpret our collections so that our visitors can enjoy an increased appreciation of our Dickensian heritage. In conjunction with this process , we will be delivering outreach activities around London and other parts of the country, we will be creating new employment opportunities, and we will share as much of the transformation of the Museum with the public as possible.

The Heritage Lottery Fund as main funder has been extremely supportive of this project, and it has been largely due to their recognition of Dickens as a key figure in British heritage that we , together with many other organisations around the country, are able to commemorate the bicentenary with Great Expectations. The project timetable was not directed by HLF: the programme of building and exhibition fit-out works from April until Christmas 2012 was developed by the Museum, and while it was a difficult decision to close for several months in the bicentenary year, and during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Games, the Board and Management of the Museum agreed that it is in the best interest of its heritage assets that the closure takes place when there are a large number of alternative Dickens activities on offer.

2012 is set to be a fantastic year for Dickens. There have never been so many opportunities for people to take part in Dickens activities around the country as in 2012, and we hope that audiences will explore the range of projects that we have supported, including new apps and trails for London and Kent. The Charles Dickens Museum is the founding partner of Dickens2012, a national and international campaign to commemorate Dickens in 2012, and through our efforts hundreds of organisations are offering Dickens activities in 2012.

As a lender of museum objects we are contributing to many exhibitions in the UK and abroad, and the closure of the Museum means that other museums, libraries and archives will be able to borrow from our comprehensive collections: at a local level we are working with museums in the London boroughs, and we are supporting the first London-wide City Read campaign with a focus on Oliver Twist in April; outside London we are contributing to the exhibition at the Watts Gallery in Surrey, and we are in discussions with Gad’s Hill Place to open Dickens’s last home as a visitor centre during the summer; internationally we will showcase our collections in venues from Hong Kong to the United States.

The fact that the opportunity to fulfil the Trust’s vision has been presented in 2012 means that the Charles Dickens Museum will take exactly the role in the Dickens heritage sector it had envisaged when we started the project. The Museum’s redevelopment is the most significant legacy project of the bicentenary; it will enable us to be open in 2013 when most of the bicentenary activities will have ended. The redeveloped Museum will have greater capacity to serve all those whose interest in Dickens has grown during 2012 as well as those who discover Dickens for the first time.

We apologise to those visitors who might have wanted to visit us in the summer/autumn but we hope they will understand that we are working hard for a longer term future for the museum, and that after December 2012 they will find a world-class heritage site befitting the commemoration of Britain’s greatest novelist.

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