The UK is dotted with old industrial sites that have been reused as heritage attractions. The challenge with these places is to make them relevant and interesting to today’s audience rather than just a nostalgic glimpse of a long forgotten past.

Step up Derby Silk Mill – widely regarded as the site of the world’s first modern factory – which has been renamed the Museum of Making. The site, a Grade II listed building, sits on a site of global significance on the Unesco World Heritage Site of Derwent Valley Mills, where the mill first stood 300 years ago. The area along the River Derwent is considered the birthplace of the modern factory system, helping to start the Industrial Revolution and a long tradition of innovation, design and manufacturing in Derby.

Many in the museum industry were eagerly awaiting to see how this redevelopment, led by Derby Museums Executive Director Tony Butler and Project Manager Hannah Fox, turned out. The project is of some interest for a number of reasons including how it was carried out using new government tested procurement and construction concepts known as the Project Assurance Model. integrated. Derby Museums is only the second organization in the UK to use this construction approach. Funders for the program include the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Arts Council England, and the Derby City Council.

The project was also developed through co-production and human-centered design. This involved the residents of Derby helping to create the museum’s exhibits through workshops, events and other activities. This approach provides a sense of community ownership and also ensures that the choices and interpretation of objects are relevant to the local population. And the use of the creativity of today’s residents forged a strong connection with the historical creativity that was so important to the city’s industrial development.

Work in progress

Derby Museums wanted to build on this creative legacy by providing facilities that support today’s creators. At the heart of this is the workshop, which includes lathes, laser cutters, welding equipment and a range of tools, workbenches and other machinery. A membership fee gives access to these facilities and there is also a co-working space where decision-makers can reserve office space.

Upon arriving at the museum, people view the refurbished, Grade I listed Bakewell Gates, which have stood in front of the Derby Silk Mill since 1725. Visitors enter the building itself through the triple-height glass atrium which forms the entrance to the museum and displays objects that present the collection and the stories that will be told in the rest of the exhibits.

A loom on display in the catwalk

Objects are grouped according to the materials from which they are made – wood, metal, glass, etc. An introductory panel proudly states: “We created this museum with the people of Derby”.

The displays have been designed in such a way that it is easy to change the exhibits. As is common in the interpretation of museums today, visitors are asked questions in the graphic panels, such as “Are there any materials that inspire you?” And “What are you going to do today?” “

In addition to the smaller objects featured in the exhibits, the show’s designers opted for a large flagship object: a seven-ton Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine suspended from the ceiling.

Visitors can choose to stay in the lobby and sit in the cafe, or go upstairs to the exhibits. The ground floor also has spaces for events and activities.

Make the note

The exhibits in the throwing room on the first floor reflect the layout of the original mill machinery and explore themes of manufacturing in Derby and the surrounding area. Here you can see evidence of the involvement of the local people and the commitment to human-centered design. Display cases, in particular, look different than most museums and feel more handcrafted and bespoke. There is a good range of items on display, including large and small artifacts, photographs, and artwork.

Also on the first floor is a gallery showing visitors the history of the Silk Mill and Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. On the same level is more recent industrial history in the Flight Deck, a small exhibit about tech giant Rolls-Royce, one of the museum’s supporters.

The Assembly, which acts as a kind of open museum store

On the second floor is the Assembly, which offers a nice change of pace from the displays on the lower floor. Here, the 30,000 objects in the collections are presented as a sort of open museum store. Again, artifacts are categorized according to their primary material.

Another key area is Railways Revealed, which examines Derby’s impact on the world through railways. It houses the Study Center, where visitors can explore the archives of the Midland Railway Society. The gallery also features a huge miniature railway which was first exhibited at Derby Museums in 1951.

Overall, the Museum of Making offers a range of engaging exhibits which succeed in bringing Derby’s remarkable industrial history to life and the visitor experience is enhanced by helpful and knowledgeable staff. Supporting today’s creators should help create a museum that builds on the region’s heritage and makes it relevant to the lives of people today. And having designers working and creating on site will help liven up the spaces with a sense of life that should keep visitors coming back.

Project data

Structural and civil engineering

General admission free for all; Free entry for MA members to special exhibitions


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