When staff at the JORVIK Viking Centre opened for business on 27 December 2015, they had no idea how the day’s events would affect so many people over the next year and beyond; but one year on, and the team at York Archaeological Trust has developed three York-based exhibitions and work is well underway on rebuilding the flooded Viking cityscape, with a newly re-imagined JORVIK Viking Centre set to open on 8 April 2017.
Water started to enter the basement of JORVIK Viking Centre from the loading bay door off Piccadilly when the River Foss flooded following heavy rainfall on Boxing Day. The technical staff managed to create a makeshift flood barrier which held the water back long enough for a team of curators and volunteers to remove all of the irreplaceable artefacts from the underground galleries, but by the morning of 28 December, much of the recreation of Viking-age York was under up to a metre of water.
An electric substation which provided power to a number of the stores in the Coppergate Centre had been flooded, so whilst there was no water to be seen at street level, many of the shops were forced to close, and those backing onto the loading bay saw contaminated water flood into their lower floors. For more, these were storage spaces away from the public eye, but for JORVIK Viking Centre, this was the recreation of the Viking city, built on the actual site and at the level of Viking-age York. After over 30 years without being affected by flooding, the encroaching water was coming from a different direction – from a drain in the loading bay – and quickly found its way into the lowest parts of JORVIK.
“When we went down there, it was pitch black – no lighting at all, and eerily silent without the familiar hum of air conditioning units. The elevated parts of the recreation were dry, but the lower parts – the entrance to the ride and the quayside – were under up to a metre of water. The floors in the galleries were under water – it was a devastating and quite unbelievable scene,” comments Sarah Maltby, director of attractions at York Archaeological Trust (YAT).
The scene was shared all around the world, when film crews and journalists, who had come to York to see the devastation on Huntington Road, descended on JORVIK to see the damage for themselves. Messages of support started coming in from all quarters – from the heads of other local attractions to the House of Lords.
However, with all of the artefacts safely transported over to a dry, secure venue, Sarah and her team quickly began planning for what had to happen next. With no inkling of how long it might take to bring JORVIK back into operation, the team started planning how to deal with school groups who had booked New Year visits to JORVIK, and to continue planning the JORVIK Viking Festival, which was only eight weeks away. Contingency plans were put in place to use York Methodist Church Hall – across the road from one of JORVIK’s sister attractions, DIG – and groups were contacted to advise of the changing arrangements. The JORVIK team also started work on pumping water out of the basement and assessing the damage.
It became evident fairly early on that a significant amount of work would be needed to restore JORVIK Viking Centre. Many of the sets were built on wooden frames, which had been contaminated by water and required replacement, whilst all of the plaster models touched by the flood water – each skilfully hand-crafted – also had to be discarded.
“Our insurers were helpful. We had policies in place to ensure that we could keep all of our staff employed during the closure, distributed around our four other York attractions or working on our educational outreach programmes – and this was crucial to us, as we have such a remarkable knowledgebase amongst these staff, they are truly irreplaceable,” comments Sarah.
Amongst the supporters were York Museums Trust, York Minster and York Theatre Royal. Each offered space to JORVIK to host some of their collections whilst the Viking Centre was closed; a way of keeping York’s Viking heritage in the public eye despite the closure. Three exhibitions were quickly assembled and continue to operate at the three venues until the New Year, when artefacts will be returned to JORVIK ahead of the re-opening.
Meanwhile, work continued on the basement attraction, with the designers of the original JORVIK and subsequent redevelopment, Rick Matthews Associates, brought in for their particular expertise and knowledge of the project
“We knew, when facing the devastation caused by the flooding, that although it was catastrophic and distressing, it also presented us with a unique opportunity to start afresh, and build a re-imagined JORVIK that would incorporate new research, interpretation and technology, that had been developed since we last refreshed JORVIK. It meant that when we re-opened, the ‘re-imagined’ JORVIK would surprise and delight visitors as we always had, and be able to attract repeat visitors, as well as new audiences, and continue to play a key role in York’s tourism portfolio,” explains Sarah.
With a project cost of £4.3m, and an insurance settlement of £2.83m, the fundraising challenge for the Trust was to raise an additional £1.5 million, from a standing start in January 2016, within the tight deadlines of needing to be up and running again as soon as possible, ideally in Spring 2017.
“We have been overwhelmed by the fantastic support we have received from so many different organisations, from government bodies, charitable trusts and foundations, local companies and organisations, and of course many, many individuals. Donations have varied from major gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation and Wolfson Foundation, to a little girl sending in her pocket money. Local charitable trusts and organisations have also been hugely supportive, and we’re grateful to them all, including York Civic Trust, Yorventure, the Sheldon Memorial Trust, the Holbeck Charitable Trust, and many more. We have now raised over £1m, and so are well on the way and are able to re-open the re-imagined JORVIK on 8 April,” she adds.
But there remains a way to go and York Archaeological Trust continues to fundraise the outstanding £314,000, particularly to fund aspects of JORVIK’s activity which are not evident in the attraction itself, but play a vital role in JORVIK’s educational and community engagement, with schools both on the doorstep and further afield, and visitors and interested people worldwide.
“When I look back on the past year, it has been an absolute rollercoaster of a year, from the lows of seeing the devastation during the flooding, to the point where we have now turned the corner and can really start looking forward to re-opening the doors and welcoming back visitors. We’ve come through an amazingly tough 12 months, but we know that 2017 will be another landmark year for JORVIK – we can’t wait to show people the great new Viking experience that will arise from the floods.”
To donate to JORVIK’s fundraising campaign, #CampaignCanute, please visit www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk
Picture shows the JORVIK Viking Centre during the flood on 27 December 2015.
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