Israeli Tycoon Gifts £20m To The National Maritime Museum

By 24 Hour Museum | 27 March 2008
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a photo of a large white classically fronted building with glass atriums lit up at twilight

(Picture) The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. © NMM

The National Maritime Museum (NMM) has received a donation of £20m towards the creation of a major new wing at the heart of its Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

The gift has been made by the Israeli shipping magnate and philanthropist Sammy Ofer and is believed to be the largest single donation by an individual to a cultural project in the UK.

Playing a key role in driving the museum’s strategic vision forward, the project, which is due to be finished in time for the 2012 Olympics, will cost £35m overall and will illustrate how Britain’s relationship with the sea has fundamentally shaped histories, cultures, economies, and identities across the globe.

Staff at the museum are promising custom-designed exhibition spaces and highly accessible archives that will change the way the museum presents its collections and exhibition programme to an ever-growing volume of visitors, both from within the UK and internationally.

“The new wing embodies a strategic new direction for the National Maritime Museum – one which will help to put the museum at the forefront for major exhibitions on the London and international scene,” said NMM Director Dr Kevin Fewster.

“It will create a spectacular contemporary environment in which more people can appreciate the wonders of our world-class collections and their stories of human endeavour and discovery.”

Over the last decade the museum has seen its audiences grow fourfold and it is hoped the completion of the scheme will increase visitor numbers – both at Greenwich and through their digital resources. In 2007, the NMM welcomed 1.7 million visitors, the highest ever. Over ten million people visited its website.

an aerial view of the National Maritme Museum site at Greenwich with extensive grounds and the museum in the foreground

The National Maritime Museum - the largest museum of its kind in the world - is housed in historic buildings forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. © NMM

Donor, Sammy Ofer, has strong links with Britain and the London shipping community. During World War Two he served in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, whilst the international shipping group he founded operates a significant part of its fleet from London with over 90 vessels flying the Red Ensign.

Confirming his support for the new wing, he said, “I look forward to helping this hugely exciting project and believe it will be a great step forward for the museum.”

Featuring five key elements, the new wing will include a substantial new space for special exhibitions, an open archive centre, new learning spaces, a new south entrance, a restaurant, café and shop.

The significant donation towards the project has also received praise from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who described the story of Britain’s maritime heritage as “Britain’s national story.”

“This generous donation by Mr. Ofer will help to ensure that current and future generations understand better the crucial role played by the sea in our history and the lives of those who depended upon it,” added the Prime Minister. “I applaud this opportunity to promote engagement with our maritime past, present and future, which has only been made possible by this unique gift to the nation."

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