Belfast Telegraph

Minister approves museum funding

Uncertainty over a planned £2 million extension to the Museum of Free Derry has seemingly been put to bed after a Stormont minister signed off on a long-awaited funding grant.

Tourism minister Arlene Foster has approved £1.2 million of Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) support for the popular visitor centre that tells the story of the civil rights movement and events around Bloody Sunday.

The Bloody Sunday Trust had expressed fears the project to extend the museum, which sits in the heart of the city's Bogside area, was in doubt after eight months passed without the minister putting pen to paper.

The project relied on inter-dependent funding commitments from NITB, the Department of Social Development and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The lottery offer of £500,000 was due to expire at the end of last month.

Mrs Foster's officials today confirmed that the minister signed off on the NITB grant on October 31. A spokesman for the Heritage Lottery said its funding offer was still on the table.

Manager of the museum, Adrian Kerr, welcomed the move.

"We are just glad that we have reached this stage now that the funding has been passed and now we can move on to complete the redevelopment of the museum," he said.

The extension will see the construction of new reception facilities on the ground floor and an entire new first floor, incorporating classroom and conference space and an archive research area. Work is set to begin next summer with an anticipated completion date of spring 2015.

"The museum is vital in terms of telling the city's history," said Mr Kerr.

"The era that we cover - the civil rights era, Free Derry and Bloody Sunday - is one of the key eras of the entire history of the city. It has shaped what the city is today and it is vital that the story of that is told, and told properly from the perspective of the people who were most involved in it."

He added: "What we want to do is create here a centre where all the learning and education about this era can be carried out and we just could not have done that (now), we are too restricted on space. At the moment all we have is the exhibition area and nothing else - we need the additional space around it and without this going ahead we wouldn't have had that space, but thankfully now it looks like it will all move ahead and by the middle of 2015 we will have all the space we need."

Asked to comment on the delay in obtaining sign-off, Mr Kerr said: "It was a lengthy delay but all we'd say now is we're glad it's over."

Mrs Foster's department had previously explained that the time lapse was due to the fact the proposal remained under consideration.

The museum has welcomed more than 20,000 visitors this year and around 125,000 since it opened its doors in 2007.

Foyle MP Mark Durkan said the investment made good sense.

"Funding for the new rebuild represents a very sound investment, particularly given the Bloody Sunday Trust's outstanding work and its innovative plans for future development," said the SDLP representative.

"This project will allow for a fuller appreciation of the significance of Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry for the people of Derry - as well as ensure good visitor experiences of the rounded historic narrative of this city."

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