An update from Neil Wallington, Chairman of the FSNM Trust
Firstly, a general reminder of the background to our present location on the Weedon site.
First based in a Grantham warehouse in 1979, The Fire Services National Museum Trust (FSNMT) moved its initial collection to a temporary base in Loughborough in 1994, before seeking a more permanent home.
The FSNMT and its embryonic FireWorld project for a National Fire Service Museum then arrived on the former Royal Ordnance Depot site at Weedon in Northamptonshire in 1996.
This move was at the invitation of the development company who had not long acquired the site and who required a heritage element to fulfil a significant requirement as part of the planning consent for their visitor attraction centre proposal in the Depot. At that time, the Trust was presiding over a growing collection of fire engines and firefighting equipment going back over 200 years.
However, the Trustees of the FSNMT - which is a registered charity – soon found their high hopes dashed of seeing FireWorld materialise and open to the public when after submission to Daventry District Council (DCC), the developer’s overall scheme was called in by government for a planning inquiry. This process cost the Trust over a year’s slippage, and it was year 2000 before the outline consent was finally approved.
Only then did the real problems begin when DCC engaged English Heritage to advise on aspects of the detailed planning approval for the various listed buildings within the Depot. This led to a requirement for a comprehensive conservation study of the entire Depot which had to be funded by the developer, a process that took several more years to complete. During this time, the FireWorld project with its new-build museum scheme was held up pending the outcome of the study and the seemingly many meetings involving DCC and English Heritage as various other requirements were placed upon the developer prior to full planning consideration.
With the years slipping by with little positive progress, the Trust and its FireWorld project remained trapped by the ongoing delays caused by the apparent machinations of the overall planning process. Then, the first signs of the economic downturn began to manifest itself, and at the end of 2012, Weedon Depot owners Gladedale, suddenly notified the Trust that they had sold the Depot to another development company.
As a result of this change of ownership, over the past three months the Trust has been required to vacate four of the buildings it has long occupied in the Depot to store its collection, which is by far the largest such array of historic fire engines and other memorabilia in the United Kingdom. Also seriously affected by this recent disruption has been the Trust’s Headquarters office and our vehicle workshops, where we have now had to close down our entire on-site restoration work.
With all the procrastination and delays of the past decade and more, the original aspirations of the Trust for a national Museum on the Weedon site are well and truly blunted, with matters now additionally compounded by the current situation with the new owners. Consequently, Trustees have reviewed their future options for FireWorld and have agreed that there is no alternative but to urgently explore a re-location of the entire FireWorld collection to a more suitable site. This work is now in progress.
Fortunately, in the past we have been modestly aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund,
whilst the Trust is also very thankful for the various generous financial contributions it has
received from the Weedon community, together with their inherent support for our ambitious
It is a very great shame that the former Royal Ordnance Depot cannot be developed to its full
heritage potential. The Trust’s extended experience on the site, without making any real
progress towards the goal of our FireWorld Museum, rather underlines this point.
Perhaps only a very bold and concerted effort by all the parties involved in this hidden
Northamptonshire gem and its rich military history in the defence of the UK since
Napoleonic times will bring about a return of the Depot’s former glory.
I will endeavour to keep you up to date with developments on what you will appreciate is a very dynamic
and fast-moving situation.
Thank you for your continuing support and for the remarkable work that has been undertaken on the Weedon site
over past years. We will get there !
Fire Services National Museum Trust