The African elephant leaves former natural history gallery at RAMM through window
Photo credit: © 2010 Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
With reports of renovation costs at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum having spiralled to a forecasted £24m we were naturally keen to learn how what has been described "an exquisite jewel box of a building" will appear to visitors when it re-opens in just over a year's time.
Having the builders in is not something you normally welcome, and Fairlynch trustees have had to cope with their own building renovation issues recently. But a roof re-thatch and updating of the heating system in Budleigh Salterton's museum were simple household chores compared with the major works that have been taking place on Exeter's Queen Street for the last five years as described by Nena Beric, Development Project Officer at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum since 2005.
The RAMM management's refurbishment plans in their original application of 2002 were rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund as too ambitious, but a reduced scheme was accepted two years later. Since December 2007 the museum has been closed to the public, but staff have continued to be employed on outreach programmes including school visits, as well as conservation tasks.
Ms Beric explained that RAMM had developed in an ad hoc way over the years and that the aim of the current refurbishment programme had been "to reveal the clarity and intention of the original building." The museum is Grade II listed, and keeping its "architectural distinction" while updating the building was one of the planners' principal intentions. "We've been very bold in our colour choices," said Ms Beric, emphasising the need to keep RAMM's "quirkiness."
A key aim of the plan had been to complement the museum's location next to Exeter's Roman wall, and an attractive stone courtyard will now be visible and accessible to the public.
By contrast, unattractive features within the building such as previously visible service pipes will now be hidden. With a newly commissioned mechanical and electrical system now completed, the museum will have, in Ms Beric's words, a low environmental impact and be economical to run, requiring little maintenance.
Re-locating the museum's collection of 1.5m objects in sites all over the city was a major task which involved all RAMM's staff, Ms Beric told us. The special care needed to deal with its special residents such as Gerald the Giraffe, the elephant and the rhino was illustrated with her film showing items being moved out of the building with only millimetres to spare.
Considerable delays have been caused by unexpected finds during the work, such as the discovery that a wall had no foundation and would have to be rebuilt, and the investigation of Saxon timbers on the site also needed to be properly carried out.
But there's no doubt that Ms Beric and her colleagues at RAMM are confident that it will all have been worthwhile. Galleries specially designed for visitors' comfort have been built allowing new exhibitions, including one focusing on Devon and the Exeter area.
New display areas and more air-conditioned spaces will allow 8,000 objects to be viewed by visitors, one third more than were previously displayed. A new entrance will allow access from Northernhay and Rougemont Gardens, and there will naturally be new and improved café, shop and toilet facilities, as well as a learning suite for use by school parties.
The Friends of Fairlynch are grateful to Nena Beric for her time in preparing her well-received talk on 18 October.
Click on http://www.rammuseum.org.uk/Welcome-to-the-new-museum/ to see more pictures of the RAMM renovations.
For information about Fairlynch Museum click on http://www.devonmuseums.net/12/206/museum.html or telephone 01395 442666
Fairlynch will be open on Friday 3 December, and again from Monday 27 - Friday 31 December, 2010. The museum is scheduled to open on Sunday 10 April for the 2011 season until the end of October.