Campaign launched to save RAF Bicester
Volunteer group, Bomber Command Heritage (BCH), has launched a campaign to acquire what remains of the historic RAF Bicester in Oxfordshire and turn it into an education centre and museum that will tell the story of Bomber Command during World War II and its formative years.
With the support of Cherwell District Council and the local community, BCH hopes to acquire the site, which has been put up for sale by the MoD and turn it into a unique living history-style education centre and museum.
“We want to advance the public’s knowledge and understanding of all aspects of RAF Bomber Command and the British and Commonwealth sacrifice made during World War Two, including the civilian story. On-going world events, the resulting advances in technology and the social impact of Bomber Command means the subject remains highly relevant in the 21st century,” says Dean Overton, chairman, BCH.
With no public access, currently the site provides no benefit to the local or wider community. By luck it has survived but for decades it has been left to rot and as many of the buildings have protected status, it is estimated that there is now a £35 million liability for any organisation that takes it on. It is envisaged that its restoration will take place through a number of phases over a 20 year period.
BCH has identified multiple income streams once the restoration programme begins. Meanwhile, the group wants to encourage people to help support the cause by pledging funds, donating, or offering their services as a volunteer.
Because the bomber station was mothballed when the RAF left in 2004, most of the site is a time capsule and the buildings little altered. According to English Heritage, it is ‘the best preserved bomber airfield’ of this period. There are 19 Grade II Listed buildings on the technical site and flying field and 16 Constrained Areas as Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including hangers, the control tower and pillboxes (18 of the buildings are on English Heritage’s ‘heritage at risk’ register).
Uniquely, its historic vistas and original context remain intact and it is also the premier surviving example of an Operational Training Unit (OTU).
Former Bomber Command RAF stations have succumbed to the bulldozer, or were altered during the Cold War and although many national and smaller museums cover elements of the Bomber Command story, none focus on it exclusively, or on a scale befitting its importance and relevance. Therefore, RAF Bicester provides a unique opportunity in which to tell all aspects of the story.
It is planned to use this historic environment and atmosphere to re-create a vibrant International visitor experience based on a working RAF bomber station where people can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the 1930s and wartime period and understand the enormity of those events.
The Bomber Command Heritage centre will look at the whole story, including the appalling destruction and loss of life on all sides, both military and civilian. Over 55,000 British and Commonwealth Bomber Command aircrew and other personnel lost their lives during World War Two.
Unlike a military museum, the proposed heritage centre will focus on all aspects of the subject and look at the motivations and consequences of war and what lessons can be learnt from it. The scope includes aviation, advances in science and engineering, industrial heritage, remembrance, reconciliation, social and cultural history. It will also provide accredited educational and training facilities for both academic and vocational studies.
The site will also have a nature and memorial trail and plenty of green space that can be used for events and recreation. Essential to the project is BCH’s awareness of the social and environmental impact and legacy of the education centre and museum. At its heart will be the core principles of public benefit and public access.
With heritage tourism now a major factor in the economy, it is expected that the Bomber Command Heritage centre will help to draw additional tourists to the region from Europe and as far afield as Canada, America, Australia, South Africa and India.
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