Team in focus
Spitfire exhibit salutes local engineering legend
A new exhibit celebrating the iconic Spitfire aircraft and its designer has caused visitor numbers to take flight at Stoke-on-Trent’s Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
The recently unveiled Spitfire Gallery has seen interest in the city’s WWII history soar among residents and tourists since it returned Stoke-on-Trent’s newly restored Spitfire RW388 to public display earlier in the year.
Morgan Sindall Construction played a key role in the new exhibition, with its Midlands business being the main contractor for the £5.4 million, 3,800 square-foot extension. The steel-framed, two-storey building enables visitors to experience the much-loved aircraft up close while learning more about its history and the man behind its celebrated design.
Surrounded with space and in a clean white interior that optimises natural light, the gallery allows the legendary shape of the aircraft to take centre stage. Positioned at an angle and facing a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, RW388 appears as though it’s ready to roll out of a hangar and soar into the sky just as it did in 1945, the year it was built.
The Spitfire’s lithe, artistic design, which has become a byword for innovation and engineering excellence, can be viewed from multiple angles thanks to the gallery’s two floors and the building’s specialised structural glazing means it can be viewed from two elevations outside of the museum.
This is a fitting home for a plane that was devised by one of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous residents - Reginald J. Mitchell. The designer of the Spitfire was born and educated in North Staffordshire, and this gallery will serve to remind the city of its connection to one of Britain’s most highly renowned inventors.
The advanced nature of the Spitfire was apparent from the first model Reginald J. Mitchell built in 1936. Capable of unprecedented speeds, turns and dives, it was soon astonishing the public with feats of aerial ballet accompanied by the deep-throated rumble of its Merlin engine. 75 years on, Spitfires are still fascinating the public today, as the new gallery proves.
The plane’s installation was undertaken by the museum’s operators and facilitated by Morgan Sindall Construction over the summer, with the gallery being unveiled to the public on the 15th September to mark Battle of Britain Day - an engagement that saw RW388’s predecessors cement the plane’s place in the history books. A small civic ceremony was held by Stoke-on-Trent County Council by World War II veterans and Julian Mitchell - the nephew of the Reginald J. Mitchell.
The museum’s extension was procured through SCAPE, one of the UK’s leading public sector procurement authorities, with Perfect Circle’s integrated supply chain delivering multi-disciplinary consultancy services. SCAPE Construction, a direct award framework designed to drive collaboration, efficiency, time and cost savings across the Midlands and East of England, accelerated the project.
Rob Cant, framework manager at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “It’s been a privilege to work on this project and the whole team has been exceptionally proud to help preserve a vital piece of our local and national heritage.
“The gallery that’s been created is not only a great showcase of a remarkable machine, but it also explains what it means for the city of Stoke-on-Trent and why Reginald J. Mitchell is such an important part of its history. What’s more, this inspirational exhibit will help future generations learn about the area’s past while also highlighting the importance of engineering skills - and hopefully it could motivate the city’s next design genius to take their first steps into this industry.
“Making sure the new gallery was ready to open on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain meant overcoming a number of challenges thrown up by the lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions. Working within the Scape framework allowed for efficient and early collaboration from everyone involved, which kept the project on track despite the intense challenges during the past year and meant that we were able to fulfil all of our social value commitments.”
Morgan Sindall Construction has achieved social value contributions matching one-fifth of the project’s development cost. This includes charity donations and volunteering; use of local labour; and the recruitment of apprenticeships. The contractor also collaborated with the local council, stakeholders and consultants to produce an educational film for the museum about the history of the plane and its special relationship with the city.
Mark Robinson, group chief executive, SCAPE said: “The extension to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery creates a wonderful new home for the fully restored Spitfire RW388, a true symbol of British ingenuity and values. This landmark development will undoubtedly help to further educate and inspire both the local community and attract visitors from across the UK to learn about Stoke on Trent’s rich history. Morgan Sindall has worked hand in glove with Stoke on Trent City Council to not only deliver a visually striking, high-quality new building but also create social value outcomes that will benefit the local community for years to come.
“Through carefully navigating construction and delivery throughout the pandemic, the responsiveness and collaboration from the entire project team has resulted in a fantastic new addition for Stoke’s heritage and at SCAPE, we are proud to have played a part in accelerating the delivery of this important facility.”
Cllr Lorraine Beardmore, cabinet member for culture, leisure and public health, said: “The museum is already a brilliant place to visit in its own right, but the new Spitfire gallery will take it up another level and expand on the fantastic exhibitions it already has. This will be a first class visitor attraction in our city centre.”
Cllr Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, infrastructure and heritage, said: “This is an iconic attraction that celebrates Stoke-on-Trent’s proud past but just as importantly let’s people know this is a city where things are happening in the present day. Everywhere you look in the city, regeneration is under way from investments in our historic buildings, investments in our transport infrastructure and investments in our cultural and tourism offer like this.
“This new exhibition will be a game changer for Stoke-on-Trent and the city centre and will provide a massive lift as we emerge from the pandemic and build back better. The design of the building and the exhibit is world class and would be worthy of any great city, not least the one where Reginald was educated and grew up. This is a great example of heritage-led regeneration creating a quality environment where visitors, residents and anyone working in the city can come and spend time. It’s going to be a fantastic addition to our city centre that will complement all the other exciting developments that are taking place in the area.”
John Bradley, built environment framework director at Perfect Circle, said “The integrated and collaborative approach of the experts across our extensive supply chain has been instrumental to the delivery of this significant project. We are extremely pleased to have worked closely with a variety of stakeholders as the council’s construction consultant, to provide a breadth of quality design, innovation and logistical services in order to make this exceptional home for the iconic Spitfire a reality. The scheme provides a lasting legacy for the people of Stoke and the surrounding area that will support the local economy.”