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The Museum of Making — World’s First Modern Factory Remade as Museum

A volunteer helps conserve objects in the collection © Chris Seddon / Derby Museums

With a fully equipped workshop and co-working spaces, Derby Silk Mill, site of the world’s first modern factory, has been remade as a new museum and makerspace

Derby Silk Mill — widely regarded as the site of the world’s first modern factory — has been reborn as the new Museum of Making. The new museum sits on a site of global significance within the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Derby Silk Mill has stood for 300 years. The Museum of Making showcases this long and extensive history of innovation, design and manufacturing in Derby. In doing so it also sets the context for the ‘valley that changed the world’ with the birth of the modern factory system along the River Derwent, which helped propel the Industrial Revolution and transformed the region into a worldwide economic and manufacturing powerhouse.

As well as telling the stories of Derby’s industrial past, the beating heart of the museum is a new workshop full of specialist equipment and skilled staff who are on hand to support modern makers. Perhaps one of the only positive things to come from Covid-19 lockdowns is that they helped spark a renewed interest in, and love for, crafts and making. The museum intends to harness this newfound passion for making, encouraging and enabling visitors to get creative.

“The beating heart of the museum is a new workshop full of specialist equipment and skilled staff who are on hand to support modern makers”

Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums, said: “This is no ordinary museum. The unique Grade II listed building and all it represents is now celebrated and safeguarded. The Museum of Making tells the story of our industrial and creative past, but it is also a hub for modern makers through the facilities and support on offer. The experience of visiting is designed to encourage people to understand how things are made, think about materials and their uses, have access to skills, knowledge and equipment that might otherwise be unavailable and help move mindsets from mass consumerism to sustainable production of things that are both useful and needed. We hope our new museum will become a must-see destination, bringing optimism and inspiring all who visit it. Derby has been shaped by an incredible array of cultural and industrial innovations over the last 300 years, and the new Museum is the exciting next chapter in the story – and one we are delighted we can now share.”

The Assemblage © Speller Metcalfe / Derby Museums

Open Storage and Modern Makers
On arriving at the museum, visitors encounter the majestic and newly renovated Grade I listed Bakewell Gates, which have stood proudly at the front of Derby Silk Mill since 1725. Visitors then enter the new Civic Hall — a triple height glass atrium that forms the entrance to the museum. This space had to be built around the 7-tonne Rolls-Royce Trent 1,000 engine, which is suspended from the ceiling above visitors’ heads.
As well as a gallery setting the historical context of the ‘valley that changed the world’, visitors can then explore everything in the museum’s vast collection — there are no ‘behind the scenes’ areas.

“The experience of visiting is designed to help move mindsets from mass consumerism to sustainable production of things that are both useful and needed”

To help visitors find objects that could inspire their own making, all objects in the museum’s collection are grouped around the materials from which they are predominantly made — wood, metal, ceramic, glass, stone, textile, synthetic or organic. Visitors can create their own bespoke trail through The Assemblage — home to the Museum’s 30,000 objects in its collections, which are helpfully arranged on a grid system.

Throughout the galleries there are stories of making, including a video wall of modern makers talking about their work and inspiration. There is also a new gallery space which will allow the Museum of Making to host touring exhibitions. The opening exhibition explores Scale, showing the work of artists alongside intriguing objects from Derby Museums’ collection. Used in production and prototyping, in mapping and to convey perspective, scale is critical to the making process and a powerful tool in communicating ideas.

The Civic Hall © Speller Metcalfe / Derby Museums

Supporting Modern-day Makers
Central to the museum’s unique offering is the new Workshop, and the wider facilities and support it offers to modern makers. A membership fee (paid monthly or annually) gives people access to the wide range of facilities on offer — including lathes, computer numerical cutting (CNC) machines, welding equipment and a range of tools and benches for makers of any skill level. Anyone from furniture makers and jewellers, to engineers and entrepreneurs, will be able to become a Member of the Museum of Making to hire the facilities with support available from specialist staff. Membership also gives them access to The Prospect, a new co-working space where makers can become part of a supportive community and book desk space alongside access to the specialist machinery. There is also a new destination café and a never-before-seen panorama overlooking the city.

The project received major funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund (£10,695,000), as well as investment from Arts Council England (£2,739,000) and D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership (£3,700,000). Significant support was received from Derby City Council, Rolls-Royce and a range of charitable trusts and foundations.

The Workshop at the Museum of Making © Speller Metcalfe / Derby Museums
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