The iconic new building was designed by the prestigious Glenn Howells Architects, and brought into reality by Stepnell, the main construction contractor for the project.
At the heart of the Remembrance Centre is a fascinating, interactive exhibition providing a preview of the Arboretum and an introduction to the concept of Remembrance, which was made possible by a £2.85 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The Timeline allows people to explore how the practice of Remembrance has evolved over time – from historic rituals associated with burial mounds, to modern day services on key dates throughout the year.
There are also a wide variety of high quality, interactive activities, which engage audiences of all ages. Visitors will experience an immersive film experience, projected onto multiple screens inside ‘The Drum’. The film follows the seasons and will explore why remembering is an important human need that spans the millennia. Visitors’ footsteps will cause digital leaves to be swept aside to reveal swathes of poppies, and people will have the opportunity to record and upload their own stories to a new national archive through a unique Memory Booth.
Enhanced learning facilities are a fundamental part of the new centre; new spaces will allow school visitors to grow from 15,000 to 25,000. The learning team is harnessing the Arboretum’s assets – the memorials, the local area and wildlife - to generate a greater understanding of Remembrance in a relevant and engaging way.
The Remembrance Centre is also host to new exhibition galleries, a large restaurant and shop, and separate coffee shop. Many thousands of additional visitors each year can be accommodated thanks to these enhanced and enlarged visitor facilities.
Adjacent to the centre is a new landscaped area to explore, Heroes’ Square, featuring commemorative paviors, engraved with cap badges or crests of the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force and City Livery Companies. A new sensory play garden, full of textures, scented foliage, and natural materials, offers another way to engage younger visitors, and will be opening on 22nd October to coincide with half term for local schools.
As they explore the 330 memorials on site, visitors will be accompanied by an audio guide, and can learn from upgraded shelters across the Arboretum that have been equipped with new interpretation - featuring content from the new exhibitions.
The Remembrance Centre received support from a wide range of institutional donors, individuals, and groups, including The Royal British Legion, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Staffordshire County Council. The Arboretum aims to become financially self-sufficient, and the income-generating elements of the centre are a crucial step towards that goal.
Lt Col David Whimpenny, Chairman of the National Memorial Arboretum board, said: “Opening the doors of our new Remembrance Centre to the public marks the culmination of years of hard work and it is fantastic to see our compelling vision become a reality. We look forward to welcoming the many thousands of visitors that we are now capable of accommodating, thanks to the new facilities.”
Major General Patrick Cordingley DSO, Chair of the Appeal Council, said: “Nine years ago we launched our appeal, and have been fortunate to have the patronage of HRH The Duke of Cambridge. It was not an easy fundraising task but due to the immensely generous individuals, charitable trusts, companies and organisations who have supported our campaign, we now have a Remembrance Centre of which the Nation can be proud. It is a fitting memorial to all those who have given their lives in the service of this country.”
Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said: “With HLF support the National Memorial Arboretum has been able to utilise state of the art interpretation to offer an enhanced educational experience for its growing number of visitors. Thanks to National Lottery Players, more people will be able to understand and appreciate the heritage of conflict and sacrifice, as represented so movingly at the new Remembrance Centre.”
Philip Atkins, Leader of Staffordshire County Council said: "We are incredibly proud to have the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and it’s wonderful to see the new Remembrance Centre and facilities now open. The Arboretum is truly a world class centre of Remembrance and we look forward to welcoming many more visitors to our great county. With the National Memorial Arboretum, Commonwealth War Cemetery and German Military Cemetery on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire has become a focus for the nation’s commemorations.”
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