The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has stepped in to help the proposed £30m Forging Ahead project continue at the Black Country Living Museum with a major investment boost.
The Black Country includes the boroughs of Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall and the City of Wolverhampton. It was recognised as a distinctive region by the Ordnance Survey in 2009 and whilst modern day technology has replaced heavy industry, manufacturing still remains a vital and central part of the Black Country economy and community.
The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley – on the border of Tipton – captures and showcases the industrial identity of the Black Country based on its rich history of coal mining, iron working and the impact that these and related industries had on the landscape and the people who lived in it. Buildings from Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton have been moved and rebuilt to illustrate life in the Black Country from 1850-1950.
The museum is a unique 26-acre real-life setting with landscapes, workshops, alleyways, backyards and streets, where visitors are immersed in an environment where they can see, smell, hear, touch and taste history.
Living interpretation and working demonstrations enable people to understand how the Black Country played a central and formative role in the creation of the connected, industrialised world that we recognise today.
The Forging Ahead project will see the creation of a new historic development focusing on the 1940s-1960s, the construction of a new visitor centre and car park, and the creation of a new learning centre.
It will tell the story of social, cultural, commercial and industrial life in the Black Country during the 1940s, 50s and 60s and the range of new attractions will offer visitors a chance to experience what life was actually like during these decades.
The project is the Black Country Living Museum’s largest and most ambitious development since it opened back in 1978 and it will expand the size of the museum by around a third, allowing it to cater for around half a million visitors a year.
With major investment in place from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the project was originally due to commence early in 2020, but was delayed due to Covid-19.
Support from the Capital Kickstart Fund as part of the Culture Recovery Fund via the Department of Culture Media and Sport meant that works disrupted as a result of the pandemic could finally go ahead.
The project then stalled due to a funding gap that arose because of the costs of cleaning up the derelict industrial site in Dudley for the construction of the new historic town featuring 22 buildings and structures. The WMCA intervened, committing devolved housing and land investment to fund the clean-up and make the site ready for development.
Final negotiations are taking place between the museum and WMCW on the final terms of the investment. The project will create more than 140 jobs at the museum and within the local area, and 30 of these would be a direct result of the WMCA’s critical investment in the scheme.
To find out more about the plans for Forging Ahead and what iconic buildings you’ll see in the new, historic town visit the Black Country Living Museum’s website.