Culture: It's Touchy-Feely Fun at Ironbridge; One of the Region's Most Historic Sites Is Now Home to a Very Modern Centre of Excellence, Discovers Laura Vickers

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Vickers

For many children the words science and summer holidays just don't seem compatible. Indeed a trip to a museum probably ranks as highly as a visit to the dentist.

However, with the help of a pounds 7 million investment, five years of planning and two years of construction, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust has managed to strike that tricky balancing act between fun and learning.

Enginuity, the National Design and Technology Centre, opened last week and is located in the historic heartland of the Ironbridge World Heritage site. Combining cutting-edge technology with the opportunity to get a hands-on exploration into the world we live, Enginuity is promising to be a sure-fire hit with all members of the family.

And attraction bosses have braced themselves for an expected 100,000 visitors a year.

However, the trust is by no means new to the ins and outs of visitor attractions. The National Design and Technology Centre will join nine other award-winning heritage centres already located within the Ironbridge Valley.

A meander along the banks of the River Severn brings you to Blists Hill Victorian House, the Coalport China Museum and The Museum of the Gorge to name but a few. The Iron Bridge itself is the perfect reminder of Britain's industrial past.

Enginuity is effectively the last piece of the Ironbridge Gorge puzzle, managing to combine tradition with hightech technology.

Paul Gossage, head of marketing for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, explains the thinking behind the the creation of Enginuity - 'Our aims were to restore and rescue a building that was rapidly becoming derelict.

'The former Coalbrooke Company Engineering Works (a 150-year-old,Grade-II-listed building) had been vacant for almost ten years when we decided to buy it in the late 1980s in order to secure its long-term future. Enginuity really finishes off the Ironbridge story.'

The centre is split into five seamless areas (energy, materials, systems and control, design and make-or-break). Long gone are the days when children were told 'look, don't touch'.

A walk around the centre reveals that the emphasis of the exhibits, selected from around the world, is on actively taking part.

Most impressive is the Scan-it machine, allowing each visitor to use an infrared beam which, when zapped at exhibits, brings them to life, with explanations of what they are, where they come from and where else in our daily lives this kind of material is used.

Visitors can then enter into competition with one another as they complete a series of challenges and record their scores. …