The very welcome contribution of £1.4 million of National Lottery Heritage Funding in 2015 was a tremendous achievement for the trustees and volunteers of Bawdsey Radar Museum. This funding enabled the full restoration of the radar transmitter block and the development of a museum telling the global story of radar. To come from a damp decaying building in 2015 to the museum winning the Suffolk Small Museum of the Year Award in 2019 was testimony to the funding and hard work that has gone into the museum’s development.
The radar transmitter block, a Grade II* listed building, was built in the late 1930s. The block now contains the museum and is a key historic building located on the Suffolk coast. The block was vacated by the RAF in 1991 and its concrete walls were in decay until the successful application for Lottery funding reversed this decline with the building’s dramatic restoration.
The museum highlights how radar played a crucial role during wartime. From the clandestine work of white coated boffins in pre-war years to WAAFs operating the radar sets during the war, the museum tells a nationally important story. The exhibits bring the visitor right up to the modern day showing how radar paved the way for modern inventions including GPS, accurate weather forecasting, car warning mechanisms and the microwave oven.
Graham Randall, Chairman of Bawdsey Radar Trust said:
“It’s the place where radar really came into being. It’s as important as Bletchley Park in terms of the war – it helped us win the Battle of Britain. Radar was referred to as providing “the eyes of the few” and RAF Bawdsey played a vital role on the ground to support the fighter pilots during these intense days of conflict.”
Operating the museum through the pandemic has been difficult, which has been the case for all museums and visitor attractions. The commitment of volunteers through this period has been fantastic and we are hopeful of a return to normal visiting throughout 2022.
Exciting challenges and opportunities going forward include further enhancements to the museum visitor experience and increasing the national audience for the museum through a digital online presence. These exciting developments are occurring while simultaneously maintaining the fabric of this important historic building.
A very exciting development that is under development is a VR (Virtual Reality) experience for visitors to the museum, which will be available later in 2022. The VR has been developed in conjunction with the kind help of BT Apprentices, Adastral Park, Martlesham, who have provided the technical know-how. The VR experience will give visitors to the museum an idea of how the Radar Station worked during the war.
This exciting partnership with BT is an important development. Through partnerships with national museums and historic institutions, Bawdsey Radar aims to achieve greater understanding and national recognition of radar in the defence story of WW2, and its role in wider scientific and technological advances across the world.
Links to other heritage gems in this part of Suffolk are also very important – Sutton Hoo, Orford Ness, Parham and Martlesham Airfield Museums are important links in creating an attractive heritage trail for the Suffolk Coast. There is strength in telling this broader story, which will ultimately attract more visitors to the area, something which all these heritage attractions need.
Bawdsey Radar Museum faces all the challenges that any small museum faces – maintaining the building and the collection, creating revenue to sustain the museum and its role as an attractive and interesting heritage destination. The museum is well supported by a very talented and committed group of volunteers and trustees who will put Bawdsey Radar Museum firmly on the heritage and scientific map of the UK. This commitment of our volunteers and trustees has resulted in the museum achieving Museum Accreditation.
Graham Randall, Chair of Bawdsey Radar Trust commented: “Museum Accreditation is a national mark of quality which gives confidence to our many visitors, volunteers, donors and funding bodies. It’s a fantastic boost to the reputation of the museum and great credit to all the volunteers, staff and friends that have worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Their enthusiasm has been the driving force behind everything that we have achieved.”
The museum is always in need of further volunteers whether it is to welcome visitors, run events, oversee our retail provision both in the museum and online, manage the website or to look after the historic collection. Please visit the Bawdsey Radar Museum website to find out more.