LONDON, ENGLAND.-The early home of National Trust founder and social reformer Octavia Hill is on the road to extensive renovation and expansion thanks to a massive cash pledge from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The Fund has awarded a Stage One Pass* of £851,000 to extend and greatly improve the existing Octavia Hill Birthplace House in Wisbech, Fenland, and awarded an additional £42,000 to help pull the final project plans together.
The money will be rolled out when more detailed plans are worked up and approved, enabling the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust Ltd to buy the freeholds to two buildings adjacent to the current museum at 1 South Brink Place. One of these, number 8 South Brink, will be refurbished and used to expand the museum display area, and the other (number 7) will be converted into an education and research space at a later date.
The three buildings, built c.1740 and all Grade II* listed, were formerly a single house where Octavia Hill was born in 1838. This project will reunite them to greatly improve the visitor experience and bring to life the history of the woman known as the ‘Florence Nightingale of Victorian housing’, in the only museum that tells her story.
Octavia Hill was a founder of the National Trust and an influential social reformer dedicated to improving housing and urban open spaces for the poor. The proposed project will double the existing museum space, with number 8 South Brink Place repaired and restored to create new exhibition spaces, shop and reception area. A community garden will also be created for museum visitors and local people to enjoy.
Robyn Greenblatt, HLF’s Manager in the East of England comments: ‘Octavia Hill was a hugely influential figure whose story deserves to be brought to life for as many people as possible. This funding will enable the current museum to be totally rejuvenated, encouraging many more visitors and giving them a real insight into the life and works of the primary creator of the National Trust.’
Peter Constable, Trustee and Co-ordinator of the project adds; ‘We are delighted and grateful that the extraordinary achievements of Octavia Hill and all the hard work of our volunteers have been recognised in this Heritage Lottery Fund award. We look forward to extending the existing displays, expanding our educational and research facilities, and restoring one of Wisbech’s finest buildings.’
The Museum collection includes a huge archive of documents, literature and photographs associated with Octavia Hill. To make sure that the expanded museum is open to as many people as possible, a lift will be installed and both tactile models and Braille interpretations made available throughout. There will also be a wide range of information materials to bring the past to life, from touch screen panels to animated models, memorabilia, historic photographs and murals.
A programme of activities will also be introduced, including historical talks and a Garden Club to encourage local people to use the garden as an ‘open air sitting room’. Volunteers will be heavily involved in creating the garden, working on the redisplay and developing activities. Once completed the project is expected to increase visitor numbers four times over, from the current 2,000 per year to at least 8,000.