Stockwood Park Museum Transformed Into Discovery Centre

By Marian Cleary | 10 July 2008
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A photograph of children playing on a wooden climbing structure

Children discover what Stockwood can now offer. Courtesy Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton

Stockwood Park Museum in Luton will officially reopen to the public on July 12 2008 after a £6m redevelopment involving a year’s extensive refurbishment and building.

Renamed the Stockwood Discovery Centre, the project has transformed the Luton museum into a development that developers hope will change the cultural landscape of the town forever.

Central to the success of the project is the opening up of the site for better public and community use beyond the walls of the museum space itself.

Stephen Anderson, lead architect from Manchester-based heritage experts Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams, explained: “We were being asked to improve visitor facilities to the museum with the collections being re-displayed and re-interpreted. Works to the gardens were also in the brief and our job was to link these different parts together.”

“Rather than seeing the site as needing one building, we broke it down into the different elements of how the centre would be used and came up with three smaller buildings and extended another existing structure.”

A photograph of a wooden covered walkway

Linking the buildings and giving greater access was a key part of the brief. Courtesy Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton

The site presented some issues however: “The location has some very impressive mature trees and this led to our working around these constraints," added Stephen.

"We responded by fitting our buildings around the trees, giving them importance. However, we took one brave decision, which was to puncture the fabric of the existing building to make it a more legible site and make public movement around the building easier.”

Another aspect of the brief was to transform the existing buildings and structures to make the centre an environmentally sustainable community resource for the people of Luton.

An example of this has been the way Stockwood’s Mossman horse-drawn vehicle collection, the largest such collection in the UK, has been re-housed, whilst the buildings themselves include a living sedum roof and a woodchip boiler, solar panels and extensive use of natural materials.

A photograph of some gardens

The local community helped to shape the gardens. Courtesy Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton

The other key part of the plan, to create a community-centred operation, has been achieved using a range of voluntary helpers, including young people undertaking work experience.

Ingrid Wilkes who has been co-ordinating this programme said: “I’ve got a big list of people still offering help with the project. There’s retired people, those looking for work experience and people who want to put something back into the community.”

“Throughout we’ve had help from a special project at a training college for young people. We’ve also had help from the probation service.”

There was also a lot of volunteer activity in the landscaping work and construction side too as Stephen Anderson explained: "Young people were learning valuable skills. Historic buildings are finite resources and projects like this help young people learn to value them and they are able to take over when our generation disappears. It’s about sustainability in its truest sense.”

A photograph of a child looking at a museum display

Discovering the past, present and future at Stockwood. Courtesy Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton

The gardens have been themed to incorporate both sensory spaces and to explore the history of the medicinal use of plants. The grounds are also home to a permanent display of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s sculptures. In some areas these have been integrated into the landscape.

At the official opening on Saturday July 12 visitors will be able to see the results for themselves, with a new museum and integrated garden that will explore the history of the region, from prehistoric times to the building of Stockwood House, and the development of the surrounding Farley estate.

“Our new Discovery Centre will offer something for everyone: a stroll through the garden, a museum visit or fun in the play area," promised Maggie Appleton, Director of Museums Luton. "It is set to become the jewel in Luton’s crown.”

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