Major tourist attraction could reopen by the end of the year

Donna Speed and Joshua Carter

One of Bristol’s biggest tourist attractions is on course to reopen by the end of the year following a devasting fire.

We The Curious was forced to close its doors 12 months ago after a freak accident caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage.

The fire in April of last year was an extremely rare occurrence with a 0.01 per cent chance of it happening.

A solar panel damaged by birds triggered a fault in the electrical system, which then resulted in the fire.

Whilst all staff and visitors in the building were safely evacuated within minutes and the fire damage was contained to the roof and solar panels, it took thousands of litres of hose water to extinguish the fire, which caused significant damage and means the building remains closed almost a year on.

We The Curious say it is too soon to be able to confirm a reopening date, based on the scale of the repair programme.

However, the team are now planning for the worst-case scenario of a reopening in January 2024 and ensuring they can continue to deliver their range of activities at locations around the city until then.

The scale of the complex and ambitious repair programme on the Grade II listed building has so far seen:

  1. The second floor having to be completely gutted and stripped back to concrete and steel because of the extensive water damage;
  2. The installation of four brand new air source heat pumps, each weighing about a tonne, which are better for the environment and more efficient than the previous heating system. The enormous pumps had to be lifted into position on a 90-tonne crane through the roof;
  3. The installation of a brand new 1,500 sq m watertight roof to replace the damaged one, which will soon be home to a new solar panel array;
  4. The complete rewiring of the building, which, if laid end to end, the cabling would stretch from We The Curious to Bath City Centre (c.25km)
  5. Six kms of data cable replaced – equal to the height of 187 Cabot Towers
  6. Electrical engineers spend a total of 1,070 days carrying out the electrical work

All exhibits, including the new £6m ‘Project What If’ exhibition, which had only just opened to the public when the fire broke out, have been shut down and placed under protective covers until the point in the repair programme when they can be turned on and tested.

Over the next few months, activities on site will include major repair work to restore the second floor, with a new raised access floor being installed, new electrics and mechanical items, and new metal frame ceilings and plaster boarding.

The ground and first floor will also undergo extensive redecoration, because of the water that tracked through both levels.

New solar panels will be installed on the roof, which will generate 12 per cent of the building’s energy – triple what the previous array provided.

Donna Speed, We The Curious chief executive, said: “Everyone has been working all out to reopen We The Curious for the coming summer. Unfortunately, we now know that this isn’t going to be possible with a repair project of this scope and complexity.

“It is disappointing, but also a great reminder that We The Curious is more than just a wonderful venue; it’s the people, the joy of connecting and exploring ideas together. So we’re going to be carrying on delivering our Out and About activities, Stories from the Stars, and School Takeover days, and the team are working on more brilliant activities for the coming year with our partners across the city.

“It’s great to see the repair work progressing, and as soon as we know more about the updated timeframe, we’ll be letting everyone know. We can’t wait to be open again and welcoming everyone back through our doors.”

Joshua Carter, managing director, E G Carter & Co Ltd, said: “This is a challenging recovery programme on a complex and historic building with lots of untested moving variables that could impact the timings. However, it’s an amazing project to be working on, and a real privilege to play a part in restoring such a beloved and important venue in the heart of the city.”

Whilst the repairs continues, We The Curious teams have been busy running Out & About events in the city, school takeover days, free stargazing events on Brandon Hill and a half-term festival on Millennium Square. Since the fire, the team delivered more than 100 events and 12 school takeover days, reaching around 18,000 participants.

Events taking place in 2023 include the Out and About programme, which has developed from last summer to create a longer-term foundation programme that will work alongside the venue when it reopens, working with returning key community partners such as community centres, libraries and children’s centres. School takeover days will also be continuing, and there will be more free Stories from the Stars events to look forward to.

The Easter holidays programme of events will be taking place in communities across Bristol and May half term will see the team back on Millennium Square for drop-in family activities.