Spitfire to return home as stunning new gallery nears completion

Stoke-on-Trent’s iconic Spitfire is set to return to the city next month, it can be revealed – as work on its stunning new home nears completion.

The city’s Spitfire – RW388 – has been in a workshop at an airfield 200 miles away in Kent for the last two years, where aircraft preservation specialists have spent hundreds of hours painstakingly restoring the plane to its former glory.

With the restoration now complete, the plane is due to arrive back at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in June, where an iconic, glass-fronted extension will be waiting to become its new home. The plane will come back in parts, with a team at RAF Cosford, in Shropshire, ready to reassemble the Spitfire inside the new gallery. It is anticipated the gallery will open to the public in September, becoming one of the region’s top free-to-visit tourist attractions.

The new 3,800 sq ft gallery has glass walls at the front and back, so the public can see the plane lit up at night. As well as showcasing the plane itself, there will be a simulator in the gallery so people can experience what it would have been like to pilot the aircraft. Part of the gallery will also be used to project images about the plane and its designer, Reginald Mitchell, who lived in Normacot and was educated in Stoke-on-Trent before becoming one of the greatest aeronautical engineers of his generation.

Conservative Cllr Lorraine Beardmore, cabinet member for culture, leisure and public health, said: “It’s really exciting to be able to announce publicly for the first time that our Spitfire is coming home in a matter of weeks. I’m sure there will be many people like myself who can’t wait to see it back and looking better than ever. The team who have worked on the plane’s restoration have done a tremendous job, and I know how difficult it has been for them with lockdowns and some members self-isolating, so I’d like to thank them on behalf of the city for all their hard work.

“There’s still some work to be done after the plane returns but we can now start to really look forward to this fantastic new attraction opening to the public in just a few months’ time. 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.

“We want our young people to visit and be inspired by Reginald Mitchell to go on and achieve great things themselves and realise that anything is possible in life. This gallery will really make history accessible to younger generations, and enhance our tourism offer with a top class attraction.”

The extension has been designed and built by Morgan Sindall Construction, and funded by the city council. The museum’s café is also being updated with improvements to the walls, ceiling and new flooring as part of the work, and the public realm is being improved outside the gallery.

Conservative Cllr Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, infrastructure and heritage, said: “This will be 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 planned 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.”

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