The count-down has begun for the opening of HMS Caroline in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
Following the award of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £11.5m and a further investment by Northern Ireland’s Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment, repairs to halt the deterioration of World War One light cruiser were completed earlier this year making the ship safe for the next stage of restoration.
Now the final leg of restoration and interpretative work can be completed to allow the ship to function as a world-class museum, a cross-community centre and a meetings and conferences venue.
National Museum of the Royal Navy Chief of Staff Captain John Rees OBE has been leading the complex funding and restoration programme in partnership with the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
He says: “HMS Caroline is a living legend. We are breathing new life into what is an internationally significant piece of world history. We are particularly looking forward to the ship being ready for public opening on June 1 2016. This will mark the first stage of a series of phased openings. The second and third phases will see the ship dry docked for hull conservation works in the winter and then the completion of onshore facilities.
“This is a world class heritage asset and the only ship remaining from the Grand and High Seas Fleet of some 250 vessels. We must not underestimate the value of this ship and the resonance of its history and position in Northern Ireland, so it is a matter of pride for us as well as a contribution to local communities that the ship is brought back to life as a museum, visitor and community centre.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell says: "As the last floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline is an integral part of the rich tapestry of maritime history at Titanic Quarter. I have no doubt it will prove to be a popular draw for tourists when it opens as a world class museum in six months’ time.”
Paul Mullan, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund NI, added: "HMS Caroline is unique amongst the world's historic vessels. We are proud that National Lottery players are helping to create a world class attraction that will undoubtedly add to the wealth of HLF supported heritage attractions on offer in Titanic Quarter.
“The centenary of the Battle of Jutland is one of many key anniversaries taking place in the coming years. HLF is working with communities to commemorate, celebrate and explore these events as part of the Decade of Anniversaries and through our dedicated First World War: Then and Now grant programme.”
The vessel has been based in Northern Ireland for over 90 years and has undergone the first stages of restoration which will eventually see it opened to the public as a world class museum and heritage visitor attraction. The opening date is due to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on May 31 2016.
NMRN in a joint venture with Northern Ireland’s Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment initially secured £1m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to safeguard the ship, £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £2.7m from the Northern Ireland Government to complete the restoration, preservation and interpretative work.