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Bulldog Spirit The Key as Museum Rises From Ashes - November 10th 2004

    National Motorcycle Museum

    The National Motorcycle Museum, near Birmingham, throws open its doors again on December 1 - less than 15 months after a fire tore through the complex. Development manager at the museum, Nick Hartland, looks back over a gruelling period - and looks forward to a new beginning...

    I must admit there were times during the past year and a bit when we have had to draw deeply from the well of resolve and determination.

    To suffer such a devastating fire - as we did on September 16, 2003 - left us two options; give up or fight on.

    The option we chose was taken instantaneously by the museum's owner Roy Richards. Within hours of the fire taking hold and razing a large part of the complex to the ground, he was telling the media: "The Phoenix will rise from the flames."

    It is his determination, skill and know how, inextricably linked with the underlying support of a loyal and committed staff, that has bought us to where we are today. On December 1 there will be more than a few tears in the eye when the museum re-opens less than 15 months after the fire.

    That day is, of course, still etched inexorably on our minds. A carelessly discarded cigarette end meant a pile of air-conditioning filters and cardboard boxes caught light, and the fire took hold and spread rapidly. The fire brigade but at best they could only put up fire breaks to limit the damage. More than 120 firefighters attended - fortunately no one was injured but the damage was widespread.

    But even at that stage people rallied round. Business delegates helped the staff wheel what bikes they could to safety.

    Three of the halls were completely burnt out, and many of our conference halls were hit. Around 380 of the bikes were badly damaged.

    Even so, several decisions were arrived at very quickly. Firstly, we would be back - and even better. Secondly, all of our staff would keep their jobs. That has meant that during our rebuilding and refurbishment programme kitchen staff have, for example, acted as labourers and electrician's mates. There was no quibbling or disagreement, we were working towards a common goal and that meant pulling together.

    Away from the museum we had our doubters, but when I look back in my mind's eye the day after the fire and see what we have achieved, it has been nothing short of a miracle.

    When we open on December 1, we will have around 600 machines, and we are currently restoring at the rate of about one per month. Our aim is to increase the number of bikes to around 800 by 2007. When we open, all the bikes will be displayed in their customary pristine condition in our five huge exhibition halls.

    Visitors will notice several other changes and alterations at the venue, which is still, of course, at the heart of the country next to the NEC, Birmingham Airport, the International Railway Station and major motorways.

    Our reception area has been considerably extended, the refurbishment has been carried out to the highest standard, we have new displays - including a reminder of the damage the fire caused - and we have had fitted a 1.2million state of the art sprinkler system.

    The extended conference and banqueting facilities have also been transformed in order for us to offer the best in AV equipment and delegate satisfaction.

    We have always been seen as the largest and finest motorcycle museum in the world, with visitor figures reaching around 250,000 per year, and we believe our new offering will be even more attractive to enthusiasts.

    All in all, the refurbishment will cost in excess of 20 million.

    The comprehensive cross section of machines has always been our biggest attraction. One of our most famous exhibits, the five times TT Winning Works Triumph - nicknamed Slippery Sam - is back after a total rebuild by the factory race shop mechanics who built it originally. We also have all the race dominating works Nortons of the late 1980s and early 90s.

    Through all this devastation we have refused to buckle - the British bulldog spirit has run through all we have tried to achieve. After all, the museum is all about the golden era of British motorcycling, and that spirit is endemic and almost tangible.

    We have drawn fully on our resolve and determination, but the results - there for all to see - will be truly outstanding.