This summer, a newly-restored wartime building at Bletchley Park will open as a 1,900m2, state-of-the-art museum learning centre, dedicated to formal and informal learning programmes.
As part of a £13-million redevelopment, the new learning centre has been successfully completed despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Friday 27 May the keys were handed over and this formerly run-down building at the heart of the historic World War Two codebreaking site, left vacant for decades, is in use once again, providing dedicated learning spaces that will enable tailored experiences for all ages.
Block E was built in 1943 and was the only block devoted entirely to communications at Bletchley Park during World War Two. Sections working here handled incoming and outgoing messages, encryption using machines such as Typex, and the distribution of material throughout the organisation.
The new educational spaces created in Block E include eight learning spaces to accommodate everyone from primary school learners to higher education students. The rooms are bright, well-equipped, tactile spaces, easily accessible by all learners, and are designed to host more than 13 tailored workshops. The first groups are due to start using the facility on 6 June – coincidentally, the date of the D-Day landings in 1944, in which Bletchley Park’s intelligence played a role.
Bletchley Park Trust is an independent charity which relies solely on income from visitors, sponsors and supporters. Despite being hit hard by the pandemic, the world-renowned museum and heritage attraction successfully raised funds to complete this final stage of an exciting three-phase refurbishment project through the generosity of trusts, foundations, individuals, companies, and statutory funders.
Phase One was the refurbishment project of Block A which now houses the largest permanent exhibition on site: The Intelligence Factory. Phase Two was the completion of the new Collection Centre that houses the Trust’s extensive collection of more than 420,000 items relating to the wartime story of Bletchley Park. This concluding phase is further evidence of the Trust’s ongoing work to create a world-class visitor attraction and museum.
Bletchley Park’s award-winning learning programme hosted more than 30,000 students in 2022, but, due to lack of learning spaces, the programme was heavily oversubscribed. The completion of this project will enable Bletchley Park to increase capacity and grow the learning programme to accommodate even more participants in this dedicated learning facility, inspiring leaners with the achievements of the Codebreakers and their relevance to today’s world.
Examples of what is on offer for learners at Bletchley Park:
- An overview of World War Two history, with a focus on Bletchley Park’s involvement.
- Codebreaking through the ages - problem solving and key mathematical skills, through both formal and informal sessions.
- A close-up look at wartime machinery; students will be able to use an Enigma machine and other examples of objects from the Bletchley Park collection to explore codes and ciphers, and to work as a team to solve problems, test their tenacity and exercise lateral thinking skills.
- Hands-on interactive learning allowing learners to try their hand at real intelligence-management techniques used at Bletchley Park, and experience some of the daily challenges faced in-period.
- On-site learners also receive a guided tour around the site, providing an opportunity for students to delve deeper into the Bletchley Park story.
- A chance to explore contemporary parallels between Bletchley Park’s information-intensive wartime work and the digitised world of today.
Lily Dean, Learning Manager for the Bletchley Park Trust, says: “We are very proud of Bletchley Park’s award-winning learning programme, and we are looking forward to opening Block E as a new, state-of-the-art learning centre. This facility will enable more students to visit us, supporting their studies in STEM subjects, and helping us to share the amazing feats of human ingenuity that took place at Bletchley Park with more learners than ever before.”
The facility was restored, refurbished and repurposed by Edgar Taylor Construction alongside Giles Quarme Architects. Further external spaces have been reconfigured to provide coach bays and safe access for the visiting staff and students.
Later in 2023, a purpose-built 250-seat auditorium in the facility will also open to accommodate schools and other educational groups, hosting a full and varied programme of community and corporate public events and talks.
Head of Programmes, Nicola Ayrton, said: "Investing in learning, and having a dedicated space for it, makes a real difference to young people and their futures. This will make an exciting and very real contribution to young people, whose access to STEM opportunities, both inside and outside school, has been challenged in recent years. Our vision is to continue to inspire people of all ages to learn about the significant achievements of Bletchley Park that took place here during World War Two. The process of explaining how and why remains hugely relevant today, as we bridge the gap between past and present and this starts with the next generation of learners.”
The Bletchley Park Trust aims to ensure the cost of the programme is good value, offering a choice of options for schools. Our very own bursary scheme, funded by kind donations from external organisations, charities and individuals, allows eligible schools to experience Bletchley Park’s learning programme for free.
Specific funding for equitable access has been provided by the MK Community Foundation. Support for free workshops and travel bursaries in 2023/4 has been provided by the IBM UK Trust.