EXCLUSIVE: Burton brewing museum saved
Molson Coors has awarded a 25-year lease to Planning Solutions, a company with a wide portfolio of leisure activities, including Conkers in the New Forest. Planning Solutions has also had an involvement with the Vinopolis wine experience in London and therefore has experience of promoting the beverage industry.
Molson Coors will make a half million pound investment in the venture and will also provide annual funding of £200,000. This is a massive turnaround from January 2008, when the brewer announced it would close the former Bass Brewery Museum as a result of falling visitor numbers.
When the closure was announced, Janet Dean, the MP for Burton, immediately convened a meeting in the town that attracted support from the local and county councils, Burton Civic Society and Chamber of Commerce, national and local beer writers and local branches of the Campaign for Real Ale. Mrs Dean organised a further meeting with Margaret Hodge, Secretary of State for Culture, who wrote to every brewery in Britain asking them to support a national museum dedicated to beer in Burton.
The Burton Mail ran a sustained daily campaign against the closure and oragnised a 20,000-strong petition to Margaret Hodge. A protest march was held in Burton and Coors employees defied their management by bringing the famous Bass dray horses from their stables to support the march.
Coors executives in the United States were appalled by the negative publicity the company was receiving and sacked the senior manager in Burton who had announced the closure of the museum.
Janet Dean turned the protest group into a steering committee that looked at the possibility of achieving Trust status for the museum that could apply for Lottery funding. But the committee was well aware that this approach could take several years and has welcomed the arrangement with Planning Solutions. The company says it will turn the centre into a National Museum of Brewing that will trace the history of beer-making in the whole country, not just the East Midlands. Nevertheless, the centrepiece of the revamped museum will be Burton's key role in brewing pale ale in the 19th century.
All the existing artefacts and archives will survive but Planning Solutions will have working and interactive displays rather than static ones and will use actors rather than models. It will be a true leisure centre with activities for children and it's hoped the dray horses will return to the Burton stables.
The key attraction will be a working 30-barrel brewery run by Steve Wellington, who currently runs the on-site White Shield Brewery. Visitors will see beer being made and the brews -- all cask-conditioned beers -- will go on sale commercially.
The centre will have bars, restaurants and rooms for meetings and events. There will also be faciliteis for education and information. Forty-two staff will be employed. Planning Solutions is in talks with local coach companies with the aim of running coaches from Derby station to Burton to maximise ease of travel for visitors.
It seems there is now a real possibility that Britain, with its great brewing heritage, will have a brewing museum worthy of the name.