• Image: Norwich Castle

Plans submitted to transform Norwich Castle Keep and create a new visitor entrance, café and shop.

Norfolk Museums Service has submitted a planning and listed building consent application to alter the internal arrangement of Norwich Castle’s historic Keep and transform the visitor experience. The proposals will return the Keep to its original Norman layout and create a new medieval gallery in partnership with the British Museum. Inclusive access to all five floor levels, including a new roof viewing platform, will be possible through the installation of new lifts and a bridge-link. The enhancements will be delivered under a £13.5m project called Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England, which has secured major funding from Central Government, the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Garfield Weston Foundation, and a number of local trusts, foundations and businesses, as well as generous support from the general public.

The plans give a detailed picture of how the Keep will be returned to its 12th century glory as the palatial residence of Norman kings. Underpinned by rigorous academic research, the designs have been developed by conservation architects, Feilden + Mawson, structural engineers, Conisbee and international exhibition designers, Haley Sharpe Design, with input from a range of historic building specialists, including archaeologists and architectural historians.

Steve Miller, Assistant Director Community and Environmental Services (Culture & Heritage), Norfolk County Council says:“We’re delighted to have reached this milestone in the Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project. The formal planning application is the culmination of many years of hard work and an extensive consultation process with members of the public and key partners, which has shaped our plans for the Castle Keep and entrance. Over the past months and years, we have worked closely with colleagues from Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, Historic England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, partner organisations across the heritage sector, and a host of academics and advisors and we’d like to thank all of them for helping us reach this significant point in the process. We firmly believe the project will be the catalyst to greatly enhance the cultural and tourism offer for the City and the region.”

Councillor John Ward, Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee says:“As Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, I am excited that the Gateway to Medieval England project has reached this important stage. Collectively we have long been convinced of the huge social benefits this flagship project will bring – increasing learning opportunities for schools and families, boosting the local economy through job creation and skills programmes, promoting health and wellbeing through new community spaces and activities, and offering an inclusive and accessible experience for all sectors of society. Norwich Castle was built as a seat of privilege and power: 900 years later the Gateway to Medieval England project will ensure its doors are open to everyone, returning it to a building of international standing with many new opportunities for learning and engagement and securing this vision of our great Castle for future generations.”

These physical changes will enable the Keep to realise its full potential as a space for imaginative engagement with one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Europe. It will provide an inspirational experience for visitors, attracting an extra 100,000 a year to over 300,000, greatly enhancing Norwich’s profile regionally and internationally as a major cultural tourism destination. It will offer an inspirational learning resource for Norfolk’s schools with the capacity to welcome 30,000 school children per year. The project will also directly create 15 new jobs, 2 traineeships, 3 apprenticeships and 3 internships, while indirectly supporting many jobs in the wider tourism economy.

The current project has grown out of an extensive consultation programme that engaged with over 3,700 people, providing a greater understanding of audience needs than ever before. A wide range of people, visitors and non-visitors, were consulted in various ways, including online, face to face talks and surveys, feedback forms and focus groups. A common thread running through the findings was people’s desire to understand and engage with the Castle’s medieval origins and its relationship with the City it dominated.

The Gateway to Medieval England project will create a new world-class heritage offer in the heart of Norwich, which enables visitors to enjoy and understand one of the most important 12th century buildings in the UK and discover one of Europe’s most complete medieval cities. Norwich Castle will also be significantly enhanced as a community resource for local people, and one of the most physically accessible historic buildings of its age in Europe.

The planning process dovetails with a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund in June for second-round funding for the delivery phase of the project. In May 2016, Norfolk Museums Service was awarded £464,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop plans for the project. A Board meeting will take place in September 2018 to make a final decision on the project. If the project is approved and permissions are secured, building work is expected to commence in May 2019.