Dorset LEP supports major new visitor attraction

Two major tourism projects which have received local growth funding via Dorset LEP have now merged to create a new revolutionary tourist attraction on the Isle of Portland in West Dorset.

The new project, which has a working title of “The Journey”, brings together the visions of educational charities MEMO and Jurassica and will create a subterranean visitor experience housed within the charismatic tunnels created as a result of Albion Stone’s limestone mining on Portland.

It was also announced that the man behind the world-famous Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit, is to help steer the project into its next phase.  The involvement of the Eden Project means that the £15.8m attraction has the expertise of a proven operator.

Both Jurassica and MEMO received funding totalling £1.3 million secured by Dorset LEP through the Government’s Local Growth Fund. The project team estimate 325,000 visitors a year, and 79 FTE all year round jobs plus an ongoing programme for 30 apprentices in the Portland Community. 

“The Journey” is expected to tell of the evolution of life on earth – its survival and extinctions - and of the latest chapter in this most epic of stories: our own relationship with natural world.  It will be housed within the stony strata of Portland itself, at the heart of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which uniquely records 185 million continuous years of the history of life.

The project is also backed by Dorset County Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and will spearhead the economic revival of the island which has remained a persistent pocket of coastal deprivation since the closure of the naval base in 1995. 

Rob Dunford, Interim Dorset LEP Director said: “Dorset LEP is pleased to have supported both Jurassica and MEMO with funding secured through the Government’s Local Growth Fund and is very supportive of the benefits this merger can bring. Once built, “The Journey” will be a new and unique international tourist attraction that will provide much needed employment and apprenticeship opportunities in and around Portland. It will also link very well with the recent extension to the cruise ship berth at Portland Port; with a growing number of cruise ship visitors “The Journey” will be a fantastic attraction just a short distance from the port.”

Director Sebastian Brooke said: “Together we will tell the biggest story of all: the evolving story of life. It’s a story four billion years in the making and, according to the world’s biologists, an important chapter is unfolding right now with biodiversity loss.  We will bring the stories of the creatures embedded in the rocks to life and tell of species on the edge of extinction today. We are crafting a visitor experience which fuses stone carving with theatre, and fossil displays with futuristic projected media. Albion’s mine is pure Indiana Jones. There will be nothing like it anywhere.”

Sir Tim said this week: “The ambition for us all is to create something genuinely world class in the mines beneath Portland to present biodiversity, evolution and the art of seeing the world anew in the most theatrical and possibly the most appropriate setting on earth, the Jurassic Coast. It is our collective ambition too that this should be the catalyst to the creation of educational facilities that will in turn incubate opportunities for the Island for years to come.”

Alison Smith, from Jurassica who will be joining the new team, said: “In the mine we’re going to be able to realise a combined vision that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an incredibly opportunity, the ancient stories of the Jurassic Coast dovetail so tightly with the stories we want to tell about biodiversity, survival and extinction, and with Portland’s industrial and landscape history.”

Cllr James Farquharson, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s Briefholder for Economic Development said: “We are excited about the prospect of adding a new attraction to the area. This will be a unique experience. As well as the clear economic benefit to residents, we expect this to become a major tourist attraction as a centre for learning.”

Notes to Editors

Jurassica: Founded in 2013 by science writer and national newspaper journalist Mike Hanlon. Early in 2016 the project was shaken by the death of its charismatic founder. Mike Hanlon’s partner, Alison Smith, who has been involved in the project from the start, will join the team at MEMO.

MEMO: is an educational charity whose mission is to inspire wonder in the planet’s biodiversity, both past and present, as a way to engage the public in biodiversity loss. Founded in 2007 by Weymouth College trained stone carver Sebastian Brooke.

Local Growth Fund: Government provides local growth funding via Local Enterprise Partnerships in England.  So far Dorset LEP has managed to secure a total of £98.5 million for Dorset to help drive economic growth across the county. 

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