Following the successful fund raising effort of late 2020 the Project Team of Admiral John Weale, Commodore Ian Shipperley, Captain Ian Bartlett, Commander Paul Pine and Commander Ian Whitehouse has been developing the Feasibility Study. An initial review led the team to develop 19 possible options. Subsequent comprehensive analysis has identified only 2 with sufficient merit to be considered further:
Option 2: An “improved as-is” model that would build on the current visitor experience by improving the booking process, access, transport and security processes while developing a modern ‘digital footprint’ to market the attraction. This can be implemented for a relatively low cost and then (we hope) supported by revenues from ticket sales.
Option 4: The co-location of the Cold War Centre and the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre in Bonaventure House supported by Courageous in 1 Dock.
The two options create the possibility of a phased approach, starting with the low cost, low risk Option 2 to establish proof of concept and deliver a digital component of the Cold War Centre. Then following on, once the totality of the project and its costs are understood and agreed, with the capital and infrastructure investment to place Courageous in a permanent dry dock and create a full Cold War Centre.
- The choice of submarine to preserve was critical. It could be any of the submarines currently in lay-up awaiting the re-cycling process, some of which have historic resonance: Conqueror (saw action in the Falklands Conflict), Valiant (first British design SSN), Dreadnought (first British SSN); all however, have been extensively dismantled internally and are in no fit state to be restored. Courageous, on the other hand, has already been restored to a safe exhibition standard at no cost to the MoD by a volunteer group of specialists; a skilled and dedicated workforce with personal connections to the boat. Thousands of hours have been expended in developing, maintaining and collecting period artefacts and photographs which add colour and depth to the visit experience, many of these period pieces are unique to Courageous. It is unlikely that such a force or the same level of undertaking could be replicated in an alternative submarine. Courageous has also ‘cooled-down’ to a lower condition than either S or T Boats, so, for all of these reasons the Study recommends Courageous for preservation.
- The Cold War Centre and the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) have complementary aims in their desire to portray the Cold War. The NMRN quite rightly is seen as having a leading role in taking forward any programme of work to deliver a Cold War Centre.
- Until very recently it had been assumed that a pre-requisite for full public display was for the submarine to go through a full re-cycling process. This has been the weakness of any plan; the release date has always been 10 years into the future preventing any sensible costings or indeed enthusiasm for the project. However, a new set of circumstances is emerging that could see Courageous being released to move to an alternative berth in MoD controlled South Yard within 3-4 years. The Study has identified the criteria that need to be satisfied to allow this and has developed a route map through them; there are no current red flags to report.
- Within four years the last Devonport based submarine is planned to re-locate North along with the submarine school at HMS Raleigh. With future generations of submariners based in the North, the number of retired submariners to act as guides and speak with first-hand knowledge and experience about the Cold War and submarines will dwindle. A window of opportunity exists over the next few years to gather relevant assets and document experience before it is too late and the opportunity lost.
The Study has made significant progress and more work is scheduled, with a particular focus on dock options for Courageous. In addition, efforts must also be made to develop the digital option, win the full support of the NMRN and align the ambitions of the different stakeholders (e.g. Study Team, NMRN, Plymouth City Council and Industry); all seems achievable.
The Project Team has meet twice with the senior Review Group (that includes senior nuclear engineers, industry representatives, the current Naval Base Commander (Devonport) and a Trustee of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN)). With their helpful advice and support good progress made. With their broad agreement the Study Team will now embark on the next stage of the Project which is to understand the ‘Rough Order of Magnitude’ (ROM) costs of preparing and readying 1 Dock to accept Courageous and to develop the case to encourage the NMRN to include the Project within its strategic programme for wider developments in Devonport. The team hopes to make a formal proposal to the NMRN Board in October.
Should you wish to learn more please contact Commander Ian Whitehouse (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.