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By Will Stanley on

First objects arrive in new home

The first of 300,000 historic items from the Science Museum Group Collection have arrived in their new home, an innovative collection management facility at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire.

Only a few months after we completed construction of our vast collection management facility, the first of more than 300,000 historic objects have been carefully moved into their new home.

This new facility provides the stable environmental conditions essential for the long-term preservation and care of our internationally significant collection.

At 90m wide and 300m long, the facility is equivalent in size to 600 double-decker buses. It features conservation laboratories, research areas and photography studios alongside a vast storage hall with a staggering 30,000 metres of shelving ready to house the collection.

The new facility enable us to better store, conserve, research and photograph our unique collection, while also improving the process of displaying items in our five museums and increasing the number of items we will be able to loan to UK and international institutions.

View across the large object grid showing the huge scale of the collection management facility
View across the large object grid showing the huge scale of the collection management facility © Timothy Soar

Although the complex process to study, record, photograph, digitise and pack 300,000 historic objects has been underway for several years, it is only in the last few weeks that objects have been moved from the Blythe House object store in London into their new home.

A model of influenza virus in its new home in the collection management facility
A model of influenza virus in its new home in the collection management facility

One of the first objects to arrive was a model of the influenza virus (magnified 5 million times) made for William Graeme Laver, a virologist working on an influenza treatment.

Another early arrival was a toy duck used by scientists to identify potential landing sites on the remarkably duck-shaped comet 67P/ Churyumov–Gerasimenko for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission.

The toy duck used to plot possible landing sites on a comet.
The toy duck used to plot possible landing sites on a comet.

After a ten year, 6.4 billion km journey the Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet in 2014 and the duck was used by Open University scientists when discussing where the Philae lander should touch down on the comet.

Other objects recently unpacked include lancets presented to vaccination pioneer Edward Jenner, spectacles created by Snapchat and a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, made locally in Swindon.

Objects, including a toy duck, are unpacked after arriving at the collection management facility
Objects, including a toy duck, are unpacked after arriving at the collection management facility

Over the next two and a half years, 300,000 objects will be transported from London and carefully unpacked in their new Wiltshire home.

We’ll transport the items as sustainably as possible, with packing materials minimised and reused, vehicle loads maximised and pre-planned routes used to help fuel efficiency.

A lorry carrying objects reverses into the loading bay of the collection management facility
A lorry carrying objects reverses into the loading bay of the collection management facility

Hundreds of larger historic objects already housed at the National Collections Centre – including an inert Polaris missile, a revolutionary Leyland Titan double-decker bus and a record-breaking balloon gondola used to study the stratosphere – will also be moved into the building, increasing access to these incredible items.

These larger items will be housed in the vast open space which is covered by a colourful floor grid.

View across the large object grid showing the huge scale of the collection management facility
View across the large object grid showing the huge scale of the collection management facility © Timothy Soar

Designed by Sam Jacob Studio, the floor grid enables us to more easily organise and store these huge items. The grid, together with other colourful architectural additions, will help people find their way around the huge facility.

Each square in the grid is 3.6m by 3.6m (not much smaller than the average UK living room), which gives a sense of just how massive the space really is.

Visualisation showing arrangement of large objects within the collection management facility
Visualisation showing how the large objects may be arranged within the collection management facility © Sam Jacob Studio

Our colossal and complex collection move will finish in early 2024, when the facility will open for public tours, school and research visits.

Thousands of incredible items from the collection will be accessible to the public for the first time in their new home. This is particularly exciting for Wiltshire residents, who will have an internationally significant collection on their doorstep.

30 km of shelving has been installed, ready to house the collection.
30 km of shelving has been installed, ready to house the collection.

But you don’t need to wait for 2024 to explore the Science Museum Group Collection. You can already discover more of the collection than ever before thanks to our rapid digitisation efforts.

Around 120,000 historic objects can already be seen through our online collection, with hundreds of new object photographs and insights published online each month. If you use our popular Never Been Seen website, you’ll be the first person in the world to view these incredible items online.

Podcast listeners can uncover the surprising stories behind everyday items in their homes through our new podcast, A Brief History of Stuff. We are also sharing new online stories exploring the environment and sustainability, all inspired by items from the collection.

Photograph taken during construction of the collection management facility, with solar panels visible.
Photograph taken during construction of the collection management facility, with solar panels visible.

Sustainability is at the heart of the new facility, which is our most energy efficient building. Its highly insulated and extremely airtight design allows the environmental conditions needed for the collection to be maintained with minimal energy use.

A ‘fabric first’ approach has maximised the performance of the facility’s building materials, reducing energy consumption, costs and carbon emissions. Solar panels contribute to the facility’s electricity needs, while a loading bay airlock, limited access points and smart LED lighting further reduces energy usage.

Outside the facility, dedicated electric car charging points will encourage more sustainable transport methods, complementing the hydrogen and electric vehicles we already use. Recycled plastic road materials and grasscrete are providing more sustainable surfaces for access roads and the service yard, aiding drainage and reducing carbon emissions.

Rainwater falling on the facility will be captured, helping create a large wetland area encircled by Clouts Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Constructed at the National Collections Centre, the facility will also join the site’s 30 hectares of native woodlands and one of the UK’s largest solar farms.


The new collection management facility was designed by the architects GWPA and constructed by Kier. You can see a time lapse film of the construction process in the film below.