National Railway Museum to bring Wonderlab to York

Neon Wonderlab sign from the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford

The National Railway Museum in York has unveiled ambitious plans to ignite young minds through the creation of an amazing interactive engineering gallery – Wonderlab.

Making the announcement during the 2018 Year of Engineering and hot on the heels of Tim Peake’s spacecraft touching down in York last month, the museum said that the £5 million purpose-built landmark gallery would inspire young people to get hands-on and invent their own solutions to engineering challenges.

Wonderlab will create a wonder-filled environment where young minds can discover their own potential through building, testing and learning. This could include the chance to have a go at pulling a locomotive as well as exploring how fast things travel and how they move. A unique ‘tinkering’ workshop space, live demonstrations, live shows and experiments would also inspire the next generation of rail engineers.

Wonderlab will be based on the hugely successful interactive galleries created by the Science Museum Group at its Bradford and London museums, which have already sparked the curiosity of many thousands of young people. Wonderlab at the Science Museum has been described by Time Out as ‘The best thing to do in London with kids’. As well as appealing to family visitors, it is hoped that double the current number of school children – up to 80,000 – will get ‘hands-on’ in the new gallery during school visits to York.

The new Wonderlab is just one element of a bold vision to transform the popular York museum, including the complete redevelopment of the Great Hall – its largest exhibition space. The epic story of railways will be brought to life through new multimedia displays featuring sound, audio and light.

Over 12,000 objects will be re-displayed and 1,000 brought into public display for the first time in a reimagined Open Store, drawing inspiration from the greatest open storage displays in the world and capturing the best aspects of the popular Warehouse but with better interpretation.

Visitors will also enjoy improved access onto locomotives and will benefit from views over the Prep Bay where they will see visiting engines being maintained and fuelled. Stories about how the railways brought us fish and chips and transported the wounded in wartime, will be told through railway vehicles and thousands of smaller objects from the museum’s unrivalled collection.

The museum aspires to fully complete its transformation by 2025 – its 50th anniversary, by which time it could also be the cultural heart of York Central – the new city quarter for York. The full transformation would see a new Central Gallery built where Leeman Road currently cuts across the museum site, providing a new welcome space and chance to showcase the latest innovations from the modern rail industry.

Outside the front, a new Museum Square would be created for the city, against the stunning backdrop of the historic railway buildings, hosting city-wide events and providing new café facilities.

Director Judith McNicol explains: “We have a vital role to play in inspiring the next generation of engineers and it is fitting to be announcing these exciting plans during the 2018 Year of Engineering. The UK currently has an annual shortfall of 20,000 engineers and scientists, but it’s predicted that we’ll need 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025. Our vision can help to plug this gap through inspiring and challenging young minds. Wonderlab offers a unique experience where young people will design and create their own solutions – just like real engineers. It will also open up our fantastic collections to many thousands more people and enable them to discover the vital impact that railways have had upon all our lives.”

The museum’s future plans and timetable for the Masterplan are all subject to funding and more details about the vision will be announced over coming months.

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