Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain was the world’s fastest, largest, and most efficient ocean liner. She is one of the most important historic ships in the world, and, when she was launched, she was called ‘the greatest experiment since Creation’.
Today, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is Bristol’s top-rated visitor attraction (TripAdvisor 2019), with visitors exploring two museums as well as the ship herself. They discover the extraordinary story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and how his legacy inspires today’s engineers and architects.
Complementing the ship’s rich history, it is the SS Great Britain Trust’s innovative education programmes and approach to museum interpretation that sets it apart from other attractions, with visitors of all ages being encouraged to touch, see, hear, and even smell exhibits.
Dr. Kate Rambridge is Head of Interpretation:
“Families explore every cabin and saloon aboard the ship, meeting costumed characters and encountering sounds and smells along the way. They engage with the ship the whole time and can even choose to climb the rigging. Getting up close to Brunel’s ground-breaking screw propeller and the working replica 1,000-horsepower engine provides great learning experiences without any textbooks or interpretation panels. In the Being Brunel museum, visitors step inside a moving train carriage and attempt to draw a perfect circle just like Brunel did when he was travelling on the very earliest railways.”
That same approach of delivering engaging experiences continues with the Trust’s flagship Future Brunels programme, developed in partnership with businesses including Aardman Animations, Renishaw, Airbus, Babcock, and Rolls-Royce. The education programme truly inspires the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs by providing pupils with inspirational experiences and role models.
Dr. Rachel Roberts is the Trust’s Director of Education and STEM:
“As a family-friendly museum, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is already a fun, engaging place for informal learning. Our education programmes build on that, inspiring young people with Brunel’s achievements and ambition, embracing both his successes and failures. Established eight years ago, Future Brunels takes twelve secondary school pupils on a five-year programme, during which time they meet engineers and role models on a series of activity days. At any one time, we have 60 children in the programme, with ambitions to double in size. Evaluation shows that, following the programme, these young people are selecting STEM subjects and considering careers that they otherwise would not have done. It’s thanks to local companies delivering this programme with us that we have such a collaborative opportunity to help nurture the STEM talent pipeline and break down barriers which often prevent many young people considering careers in engineering and technology.”
The SS Great Britain’s heroic salvage and ongoing conservation story provides further inspiration.
Nicola Grahamslaw is the Trust’s Ship’s Conservation Engineer:
“The ship’s salvage from the Falkland Islands 50 years ago was an immensely ambitious and risk-taking project which characterises the ship’s whole life, really. The dehumidifying method we’re now using to conserve the ship’s hull is also pioneering, and we’re continually working on new projects, including upgraded sensor and control technology and collaborating on research with universities, to improve that process and reduce its carbon footprint. Sealed beneath an eye-catching glass sea, visitors head down into the historic dry dock and can see the system in operation.”
The SS Great Britain Trust’s education programmes, visitor experience, and conservation work consistently win awards. For example, judges of the prestigious European Museum of the Year Awards gave Brunel’s SS Great Britain the Portimão Museum Prize – Europe’s Most Welcoming Museum 2019. And the most recent development – the Being Brunel museum – has won multiple awards for architectural and building innovation as well as the 2019 Museums + Heritage Award for ‘Permanent Exhibition of the Year’.
Nicola Grahamslaw, Ship’s Conservation Engineer