‘First Light’ will celebrate the observatory’s global reputation in the history of astronomy

Home to the Grade 1-listed Lovell Telescope, the world’s largest when completed in 1957, Jodrell Bank has played a key role in space investigation for over half a century; from tracking Sputnik 1 at the dawn of the space age to playing a discreet warning role during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status earlier this year, it still plays a crucial research role as part of the University of Manchester and has hosted the award-winning annual Bluedot festival (main image) since 2016.

One of the Cheshire observatory’s most pivotal roles, however, is as an educational attraction; welcoming 185,000 visitors - including 26,000 school pupils - to its Discovery Centre annually. 

A centre for learning, wonder and fun - a place where people of all ages can, quite literally, reach for the stars

Now, those numbers are set to grow yet further, as the centre today announced a new £20.5m visitor gallery courtesy of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund: £16.1m thanks to National Lottery players, with a further £4m from the government (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport).

Named ‘first light’ - referring to when the Lovell Telescope first collected radio signals from the universe - the ‘spectacular’ new gallery building will promote and celebrate Jodrell Bank’s world-leading place in the history of astronomy, and a pioneering chapter in British scientific and cultural history. Founded in 1945 by Sir Bernard Lovell, it’s the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world still in existence and - as a pioneer of the new science of radio astronomy - revolutionised our understanding of the universe.

2018 05 21 Jodrell Bank First Light 2
First Light will be ‘a must-see national heritage destination’, matching the site’s national and global importance

Delivered over three years, the new facilities will house a transformative new exhibition and engagement space: featuring the 1957 telescope dish fabric, an auditorium devoted to displaying immersive digital presentations, an education hub and a new café. 

First Light will provide opportunities for people to become more involved in Jodrell Bank through education, group activities, volunteering and engagement; as well as creating nineteen new roles. Designed to inspire young people and their families, it will showcase both the scientific and human sides of radio astronomy. 

Commenting on the award, Professor Teresa Anderson, Director of Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, said: ‘’We are thrilled that we have received this generous support thanks to National Lottery players and the DCMS. This funding will transform visitor engagement with the heritage of Jodrell Bank. It will enable us to properly relay, reveal, interpret and explain our story, so that a wider range of people, locally, nationally and worldwide, can understand and appreciate the unique turning point that occurred with the emergence of radio astronomy. 

“This major investment acknowledges Jodrell Bank’s unique significance and will ensure that the heritage of the site is protected and conserved according to the standards required of a World Heritage Site, ensuring its care and maintenance for future generations.’’

2018 05 21 Jodrell Bank First Light 1
A CGI of ‘First Light,’ named for when the Lovell Telescope first collected radio signals from the universe

“I am particularly pleased that this will provide opportunities for young people to pursue their own paths of interest and to develop the skills needed to become the digital technologists, scientists and artists of the future," she added.

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “The First Light project has been designed to nurture a new generation of scientists and astronomers and is only possible thanks to National Lottery funding. Jodrell Bank will be a centre for learning, wonder and fun - a place where people of all ages can visit, be inspired and, quite literally, reach for the stars.”

Commenting on the award, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “It’s great to be here at this iconic home of British innovation to personally congratulate the team on this funding award, which will enable Jodrell Bank to continue to inspire scientists in Britain for generations to come. 

“We are committed to continuing the proud heritage that Jodrell Bank represents, by making the UK the world’s most innovative economy through our Modern Industrial Strategy. As we stand on the threshold of a technological revolution, we will use science to transform our quality of life.”