Newly-formed trust seeks to open heritage centre at former RAF Coltishall

Members of the newly formed RAF Coltishall Memorial Trust who's group aim is to preserve and display

Members of the newly formed RAF Coltishall Memorial Trust who's group aim is to preserve and display the history and artefacts from the airbase after it was closed down in 2006. Pictured is Mervyn Cousens with a book about the history of the airbase with from left Paul Hendley, Paul Sweetman,, John Welton, Tom Hempsall, Ian MacLeodPictured: MARK BULLIMORE

Grown men wept when RAF Coltishall closed 10 years ago.

The proud Battle of Britain fighter station went on to play an important role in subsequent conflicts and stand-offs, including the Cold War and Gulf Wars.

For thousands of its personnel, scattered throughout Norfolk and the world, it was a place of triumph, tragedy and, above all, camaraderie.

In the immediate aftermath of closure, the Spirit of Coltishall Association (Soca) was formed to kindle and keep memories burning.

And, from that flame, a new body has just been formally established, the RAF Coltishall Heritage Trust.


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Its aim is to set up a heritage centre on the former base, now called Scottow Enterprise Park and owned by Norfolk County Council.

Trust chiefs are negotiating with the county for a building to use.

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Meanwhile, a temporary museum has been created in a side room of the former hangar four, now the home of innovative firm Vitromite, which turns reprocessed glass into building components.

There, RAF Coltishall memorabilia belonging to official base historian Mick Jennings has been 'repatriated' from the City of Norwich Aviation Museum, and trust members plan the future.

'Coltishall was very much a 'can do' station and we can get that same spirit going again to cut through bureaucracy and help the council take this plan forward,' said trust chairman Mervyn Cousens, 59, projects director with Vitromite.

Like all trust members, Mr Cousens has deep ties to the old base, which his father helped build and where he has worked in a civilian support role for some 30 years.

The father of ex-serviceman Paul Hendley, 72, Wing Cmdr WJ 'Spanner' Hendley, served at RAF Coltishall during the Second World War and was a friend of Battle of Britain hero pilot Douglas Bader.

And trust secretary John Welton, 63, ran hangar four, where the museum is temporarily housed, when it was used for aircraft maintenance, working with Lightnings in the early 1970s and Jaguars in 1994.

'We all know the place well. Imagine Norwich Castle peopled with Norman lords and ladies. The public could ask them what it was really like to live there – we can do that for Coltishall,' said Mr Welton.

They are hoping a building will have been identified and be open by the middle of next year, forming part of a 'heritage zone' which would also include iconic features such as the air traffic control tower and historic Spitfire fighter pens.

The trust is also working closely with the Norfolk Fire Museum, which has much of its collection stored at the site, and wants a permanent home there.

'We have got to convince Norfolk County Council that heritage is an asset which can generate income, just as the enterprise park can,' said Mr Welton.

And Mr Cousens added: 'None of what happens here now would have been possible if people in the past hadn't made sacrifices. I believe that is a debt that we have to acknowledge.'

Anyone wanting to get involved with the trust's plans, or donate money or artefacts, should email Mervyn Cousens: m.cousens@btopenworld.com

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