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Darwin's Shrewsbury home could become 'world class' higher education centre

By Lucy Todman | Shrewsbury | Education | Published:

A multi-million pound deal could bring a world class learning centre to Shrewsbury - and all in the name of the town's most famous son.

The Mount is the former home of Charles Darwin, inset

The Darwin Initiative wants to bring a higher education digital facility to the town which would be housed in the former home of Charles Darwin on The Mount.

The group has secured funds from America, Singapore and the UK and attracted the attention of more than a dozen research groups around the world.

If it is successful in its bid to buy the building from the owners of The Mount, which is currently home to the valuation office, it will see the creation of a Shropshire-based centre of research in the fields of botany, zoology and geology.

Research would be carried out both in the UK and overseas and teaching provided at least once a year at The Darwin centre.

Mike Marchant, local co-ordinator for the group said: "We will hopefully find out in the next few days or weeks whether we have been successful.

"We have put our case forward to the Mapeley, the group that owns the building, and have shown that we have the funds in place to move forward with this project.

Business plan

"At present higher education in this country is very expensive and it is not connected to the real world. With our poly-university we would provide teaching in a commercial environment. Because of this we would not need to charge students exorbitant fees and there would not be a disjoint between a final degree and how that works in the commercial world.

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"We have been talking with the owners of the building and they understand our business plan. Now we are just waiting to see what happens. We have been told that it will be within days or weeks. If we were to get permission to buy then we would not be forcing the HMRC out immediately. Their lease is due to expire next year and there are so many other things that need to be done."

One of the plans is to demolish the former workshops at the rear of the building and in their place build a 'world class botanic research centre'.

The initiative has also been approached by a leading national charity which wants to use the former stables as its base. But Mr Marchant said the group had ruled out turning Darwin's former home in to a museum.

"There is very little in the building that reflects Darwin. The inside of the building has been treated very unsympathetically for some time.

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"A museum needs visitors and The Mount site can not do that. It is not safe or big enough for visitors. Instead we aim to make it an important place for digital visitors and that will make it a global destination.

"We have said all along that if there is resistance to what we are proposing we will step away and take the money somewhere else. That would be a shame for the town. This is a perfect system. It is a very big ambition but we have hundreds of millions of pounds to deploy - hopefully in Shrewsbury."

Other groups interested in taking over the building, once the Valuation Office moves out in 2021, is a steering group made up of University Centre Shrewsbury, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shrewsbury's former mayor, Councillor Jane Mackenzie.

Lucy Todman

By Lucy Todman
@shroptod

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle based in Shrewsbury.

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