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Norwich Castle plans for new £13.5m visitor entrance, cafe & shop

Norfolk Museums Service has submitted a planning and listed building consent application to alter the internal arrangement of Norwich Castle's historic Keep and transform the visitor experience.

The proposals will return the Keep to its original Norman layout and create a new medieval gallery in partnership with the British Museum. Inclusive access to all five floor levels, including a new roof viewing platform, will be possible through the installation of new lifts and a bridge-link.

The enhancements will be delivered under a £13.5m project called Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England, which has secured major funding from Central Government, the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership through the Growing Places Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, and a number of local trusts, foundations and businesses, as well as generous support from the general public.

The plans give a detailed picture of how the Keep will be returned to its 12th century glory as the palatial residence of Norman kings. Underpinned by rigorous academic research, the designs have been developed by conservation architects Feilden + Mawson, structural engineers Conisbee and international exhibition designers Haley Sharpe Design, with input from a range of historic building specialists, including archaeologists and architectural historians.

The planning submission includes the following changes:

Reinsertion of the Norman principal floor of the Keep to enable the recreation of the Great Hall, Kitchen, King's Chamber and Chapel
The development of a new medieval gallery, created in partnership with the British Museum, that will showcase national medieval treasures alongside objects from Norfolk's own internationally-significant collections of archaeology, art and costume and textiles
New lifts to significantly improve circulation, wayfinding and access arrangements in the Keep and reception areas
Transformation of the visitor welcome through alterations to the existing entrance and creation of a new dedicated schools' entrance
A new atrium that provides unseen views of the exterior of the Keep from inside the museum and an internal bridge-link that enables direct level access to the Keep from reception
The development of a new café, shop and toilets, including Changing Places and baby changing facilities
New creative digital and learning spaces on the ground floor of the Keep, with a new Early Years gallery designed especially for children under 7

Steve Miller, Assistant Director Community and Environmental Services (Culture and Heritage), Norfolk County Council says: 'We're delighted to have reached this milestone in the Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project. The formal planning application is the culmination of many years of hard work and an extensive consultation process with members of the public and key partners, which has shaped our plans for the Castle Keep and entrance.

'Over the past months and years, we have worked closely with colleagues from Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, Historic England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, partner organisations across the heritage sector, and a host of academic advisors and we'd like to thank all of them for helping us reach this significant point in the process. We firmly believe the project will be the catalyst to greatly enhance the cultural and tourism offer for the City and the region.'

Councillor John Ward, Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee says: 'As Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, I am excited that the Gateway to Medieval England project has reached this important stage. Collectively we have long been convinced of the huge social benefits this flagship project will bring - increasing learning opportunities for schools and families, boosting the local economy through job creation and skills programmes, promoting health and wellbeing through new community spaces and activities, and offering an inclusive and accessible experience for all sectors of society.

'Norwich Castle was built as a seat of privilege and power: 900 years later the Gateway to Medieval England project will ensure its doors are open to everyone, returning it to a building of international standing with many new opportunities for learning and engagement and securing this vision of our great Castle for future generations.'

These physical changes will enable the Keep to realise its full potential as a space for imaginative engagement with one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Europe. It will provide an inspirational experience for visitors, attracting an extra 100,000 visits a year to over 300,000 visits per annum, greatly enhancing Norwich's profile regionally and internationally as a major cultural tourism destination. It will offer an inspirational learning resource for Norfolk's schools with the capacity to welcome 30,000 school children per year. The project will also directly create 15 new jobs, two traineeships, three apprenticeships and three internships, while indirectly supporting many jobs in the wider tourism economy.

Reinstating the Norman floor and rooms has been a long-cherished ambition, dating back to when the Keep was remodelled as the County Museum in the 1890s. Plans and archival documents from this period show that Victorian architect, Edward Boardman, intended to insert a complete floor at Norman principal floor level but the idea was rejected due to financial constraints. The concept has never gone away, however, being revisited in the 1960s and in every decade since.

The Norwich Society, which has been kept informed of the plans from an early stage, commented, 'The Norwich Society is impressed with the range of surveys being undertaken to better understand the historic fabric.

'The Trustees feel that the work of restoring the original form and appearance of the Keep is of significant historical consequence locally, nationally and in relation to European Norman castles. What follows on from that is the importance for the Keep, as an ancient monument to be fully intelligible to the public.'

The current project has grown out of an extensive consultation programme that engaged with over 3,700 people, providing a greater understanding of audience needs than ever before. A wide range of people, visitors and non-visitors, were consulted in various ways, including online, face to face talks and surveys, feedback forms and focus groups. A common thread running through the findings was people's desire to understand and engage with the Castle's medieval origins and its relationship with the city it dominated.

The Gateway to Medieval England project will create a new world-class heritage offer in the heart of Norwich, which enables visitors to enjoy and understand one of the most important 12th century buildings in the UK and discover one of Europe's most complete medieval cities. Norwich Castle will also be significantly enhanced as a community resource for local people, and one of the most physically accessible historic buildings of its age in Europe.

Commenting on the proposals, the Norwich Access Group said, 'The proposed changes should make Norwich Castle shine like a beacon of hope for inclusive design. The Norwich Access Group fully supports the ambitions to make inclusivity integral to the Gateway to Medieval England project.'