Planned £4m visitors’ centre at Thursford aims to open children’s eyes to the glory of steam
PUBLISHED: 08:29 11 September 2018 | UPDATED: 00:30 12 September 2018
A Norfolk attraction is stoking up its engines after announcing ambitious plans to invest £4 million into a new interactive children’s experience.
Keeping true to its roots, the Thursford Collection, near Fakenham, is hoping to open a new 27,000 sq ft steam-themed facility to the north of its existing site - around half the size of an American football field.
The erection of a two-storey building would house an indoor interactive play space, a 200-seater restaurant, function rooms, a store room, amenity spaces, and landscaping work. Alongside the construction there would also be an outside recreation area and a new 96 space staff car park.
The plans to bring to life a vintage steam fairground has been two years in the making but still has a long way to go, explained projects manager, George Cushing.
“The project has been in our minds since 2016,” he said. “We’ve gone all over the world and researched what’s good and not so good for this type of place for children and we think we’ve come up with something really special.
“We want to give all of our Thursford quality to it and we want to make it amazing. It’s going to be a no-expenses-spared experience.”
Planning permission was put into North Norfolk District Council this week and, if approved, work would begin next year on removing 9,000 cubic metres of ground. It is then anticipated building would start in 2020, with an opening date planned for Easter 2021.
Mr Cushing added: “The inside is something we want to try and keep secret but it’s along the lines of being interactive and steam-themed.
“We want to make something in Norfolk that has never been seen before - even in the country - but also keep an educational element teaching children about steam through play.”
The proposed plans will add to the attraction’s current offerings, including its steam museum and Christmas Spectacular show, and will add an extra dimension for children who visit.
“We want the whole experience to be just as good for the adults as it is the children.
“We aim to be one of Norfolk’s top visitor attractions all year round - not just at Christmas.”
The entire site, including the outdoor recreational area, will be housed on a five acre section of land and although the facility has yet to be given a name, the brains behind the plans said they are currently playing with a few ideas.
It is hoped that the new facility will also create between 10 and 15 new jobs.
Thursford: A spectacular success
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is the largest performance of its kind in the whole of Europe and it is thought to generate around £10 million for the local economy.
The show was founded by John Cushing, whose father established a steam engine and organ museum in Thursford in the 1970s.
Mr Cushing organised the first ‘spectacular’ in 19977. It was a small carol in an old farm shed which drew about 50 visitors.
The show now attracts around 180,000 people a year to North Norfolk over the Christmas period, which is more than the 135,000 tickets sold for the 2016 Glastonbury Festival.
Every year, hundreds of dancers from across the world apply to be in the show, but only a handful are chosen to eventually tap, kick and cavort across the stage on opening night.
The show features a cast around 130 professional singers, dancers and musicians.
The power and romance of steam is preserved in all its glory at the Thursford Collection, which boasts the largest assembly of steam engines, organs and fairground attractions in the world.
The attraction was established in 1977 after steam roller entrepreneur John Cushing, who long had a fascination with steam, turned his personal collection into a trust endowed charity.
Mr Cushing’s interest is said to have been sparked by a visit to the fair when he was just eight years old and found himself captivated by the sights and sounds of fairground organs.
The centrepiece of the collection is the Mighty Wurlitzer, an organ with 1,339 pipes which was built to play music in cinemas in the days of silent films.
Visitors to Thursford can also take part in a behind-the-scenes tour, seeing the dressing rooms, costume stores and wardrobe used for the Christmas Spectacular, as well as an engine yard with videos of how the engines would have been used.