Ely Museum has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the ‘Unlocking the Potential of the Old Gaol’ project, it was announced today.

The project aims to transform the museum over the next four years and to work more closely with local communities. The museum will become a heritage hub for locals and tourists, introducing them to the history of the area. New galleries, a series of events and exhibitions and welcoming visitor facilities will create an exciting destination for local families, schools and visitors to the area while resources and trails will encourage people to explore the district further.

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, development funding of £159,300 has also been awarded to help Ely Museum to progress their plans to apply for a full grant of £1.8m at a later date.

The project will include the renovation of the historic ‘Old Gaol’ building and the redisplay of the collections within it. Displays will be developed to tell the story of Ely and East Cambridgeshire with input from local people. There will be lots of opportunities for the community to get involved with events and activities, volunteering opportunities and consultation. The new museum will include research areas to allow people to find out more about their local heritage. Schools visiting the museum will benefit from improved facilities and exciting new opportunities. A lift will improve access for visitors and all visitor facilities will be updated. Storage for the museum’s collections will be improved to safeguard local heritage for the future.

The museum building housed the Bishop of Ely’s gaol from 1679 – 1836 and has also been a private house, a library and a Registry Office.

Elie Hughes, Curator said: “This is such exciting news for Ely Museum! The support of the Heritage Lottery Fund means that the museum is one step closer to becoming an exciting twenty first century heritage attraction for the local area and its people.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “From much-needed space and reinvigorated displays, to safeguarding existing collections and adding new voices from the community – this project is set to transform Ely Museum for a 21st century audience.

“Our support has been made possible by National Lottery players so we’re particularly pleased that this project has a real focus on enabling communities to explore the heritage held at the museum and to play a vital role in its future. We look forward to seeing the plans develop.”