THE first visitors to see a museum’s new £3.5m make-over have declared it has the wow factor.
Fort Nelson on Portsdown Hill, near Fareham, has been undergoing the transformation since November 2009.
And it now boasts a new visitor centre and cafe, revamped galleries, a state-of-the-art education centre and a stunning centrepiece – the Voice of the Guns, a massive glass-sided gallery showing off the museum’s largest pieces.
Abi Case, 11, said: ‘I came before about a year ago and it was very different to today. When I walked in it was just like “wow!” It was very cool.
‘I really like the big guns.’
Her brother Sam, eight, added: ‘I was astonished when I first saw the gallery. It was amazing because of all the big guns.
‘It’s much better this time than when we came before.’
The museum is run by the Royal Armouries, and the project was part-funded by a £2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Dad Chris Case, from near Liverpool, is a trustee of the Royal Armouries, and said: ‘This project has completely transformed the place.
‘It’s going to be fantastic now, particularly for the local community.
‘We’ve had some really challenging times with the budget recently, but all through it, this project has been maintained and you can really see why, now it’s finished.’
Sean Mannie, head of Royal Armouries South said: ‘This has always been a fantastic site and people love the actual fort as much as the collection.
‘But there was so little internal space before, and everything was rammed – what we have now is a wonderful environment for our collection as long as the buildings stand.
‘I’ve been living with this project for the past six years, it’s such a relief to see it completed.’
Karen Whitting, head of creative programmes for the armouries added: ‘It’s so exciting to see what I imagined is finally here. Everything we were shown in the drawings, it looks exactly as I dreamt it would, and more.
‘This is ours to care for for the next generation so we need to make sure it’s cared for in the best possible way.
‘What’s been done here is an incredible achievement.’
The museum is home to the national collection of artillery and historic cannon and attracts around 90,000 visitors a year.
Also part of the revamp is a new car parking area.
The galleries are now open to the public and the museum remains free to enter.
The visitor centre opens on Saturday.