Plymouth Cold War museum plan overcomes first hurdle

The team behind a Cold War museum in Plymouth are to press ahead with the ten-year project after meeting their first goal.

The public has donated the £40,000 needed to carry out a detailed study into whether the ambitious plan – with veteran hunter-killer nuclear submarine HMS Courageous as its centrepiece – is feasible.

Rear Admiral John Weale – head of the Silent Service until earlier this year and now heading the team behind the ‘Cold War Centre’ – said that since announcing the plans in September, the level of interest in the museum project had “far exceeded expectations”.

Two thirds of the donations – anywhere between £5 and £500 – has come from individuals, many of them Cold War veterans, especially from the Submarine Service, with defence firms providing the remaining cash.

“We are delighted that the bulk of the money has come from the Royal Navy community,” said Ian Whitehouse, former commanding officer of Cold War submarines HMS Onyx and Sovereign.

“We feel this is an era which needs to be recognised beyond the few flashpoints that people might remember, such as the Greenham Common protests.

“The Plymouth Cold War Centre is about telling the story of the ‘war’ we went to sea in, which RAF aircrew flew in, which soldiers in Germany and Royal Marines in Norway trained and served in.”

We feel this is an era which needs to be recognised beyond the few flashpoints that people might remember

Ian Whitehouse

A small team will now work with the MOD, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Plymouth City Council and industry to draw up detailed plans, costings – short and long-term – and the likely benefits of the centre.

Beyond boosting tourism in the South West and shedding light on a period of UK and global history which is eclipsed by the two world wars, one key goal of the centre is to champion British industry past and present in developing the cutting-edge technologies needed to keep the nation’s armed forces ahead of their adversaries – hopefully stimulating tomorrow’s engineers, designers and tech advocates.

Courageous has been opened to the public for nearly two decades pulling in about 5,000 visitors every year.

She’s run on a voluntary basis, access is difficult – for security reasons, tourists have to book well in advance - and, as she’s afloat in No.3 Basin in Devonport Naval Base, she needs to go into dry dock every few years for maintenance and hull cleaning.

The submarine is currently being worked on ready to go back in the water in time for her 50th birthday in the spring, when she’ll re-open to the public.

The detailed study will look at the cost of restoring and maintaining her as the focal point of the Cold War Centre and the location of the supporting museum/archive/research centre – which may be in the naval base, or elsewhere in the city.

That study should be completed in the spring and, if positive, the principal fundraising (including a bid for lottery money) would begin in 2022.

Plans for the centre are running parallel to £300,000 fund-raising efforts for the new Submarine Monument to be erected at the National Memorial Arboretum. Any leftover money from that project will be pumped into the Plymouth museum.