Words: Mark Harris. Photos: Miguel Blasco Martin
One of the most successful public regeneration projects to be realised in Southsea recently has to be the new water feature at Southsea Castle, along with the revamped D-Day Story museum. It shows what can be achieved when there is a shared vision between talented designers and supportive commissioning bodies. Obviously, the small matter of adequate funding is the key driver in bringing these elements together. Kudos must be given to Portsmouth City Council, the Victorious Festival owners and former councillor Linda Symes for the new water feature, plus the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £4.1m for the D-Day museum works.
Before the transformation the previous fountain and it’s rather turgid water was a place to hurry past on the way to the beach or castle. It is now a great place to take my children to meet their friends and have fun.
As for the D-Day museum, I last visited several years ago with my son. I was struck by how unloved the building and the exhibits had become. There was also a feeling of the museum being isolated from its surroundings. Not a particularly fitting tribute to the gallant efforts of all the people who took part in the D-Day invasion, one of the most important campaigns in WWII.
I’m happy to report that all of this has now changed. I had the privilege of a guided tour by the museum’s manager, James Batney. James explained that the aim of the D-Day Story was, “to tell the story of D-Day by focusing on the personal stories and artefacts of those involved to create an educational and immersive experience – not typical of a military museum.” Some of my favourite artefacts included: the silk dress made by a French citizen from a British parachute; Betty White’s coat belonging to a five-year-old Gosport girl covered with badges collected from passing troops; and the statue of Gustav the pigeon, who returned from France with news of the successful landings.
According to James, the response to the new museum has been overwhelmingly positive. Great care has been exercised in designing the new layout, which creates a journey through the D-Day landings from the planning to the commemorating of this momentous event, climaxing in the astonishing 83m long Overland Embroidery. Internally, the centre of the museum has been opened up to create a vibrant open space that contains the shop and café, and external links to Southsea Castle and the Common, along with greatly improved accessibility.
No doubt the success of these projects will encourage the renewal of other public spaces in Southsea.