Since the project began, Bicester Heritage has transformed the unique location, creating a business campus, now home to 35 automotive and aviation-related businesses and a host to a series of phenomenally successful motoring related events. Nestled in and amongst the beautiful buildings of the Technical Site, visitors can expect to find over 110 years of motoring history in various stages of repair, restoration and use.
When the Bicester Heritage team took over, the site was in danger of inappropriate development, and a far cry from the active hub of aviation that once played host to RAF bombers, fighters, top-secret missions and Royal visits. Instead, it lay untouched for almost 40 years, having been mothballed by the RAF in 1976. It was under such threat that it was described as being the ‘most at risk of all defence estates in Britain’ in 2008, and with concern for the 19 listed buildings and 11 areas of scheduled ancient monuments, was added by Historic England to their ‘Buildings At Risk Register’.
The future remained bleak until as recently as 2013, when the current team purchased the site from the Ministry of Defence, with thorough, robust and carefully contemplated plans in mind to turn it into a hub for all things related to historic motoring.
Just three years down the line, these plans have developed at a staggering rate and in the care of Bicester Heritage, the site is enjoying a life of the sorts it hasn’t experienced for many years.
There are some 50 buildings and structures on the 48-acre technical site and, as Bicester Heritage celebrates its third anniversary, 70% of these have already been carefully reactivated, using original materials, techniques, colours and design details wherever possible.
There are now as many as thirty-five businesses operating from these historic buildings, a rapid rise from the twelve that were on site two years ago. Of the first twelve, six were start-ups, incubated within the protective environment of the unique site. The businesses’ combined areas of expertise mean that the site acts as a marina-like environment for historic vehicles and their owners, with specialists able to assist with all areas of ownership from purchase, restoration, use, maintenance, storage and as a result further the owners’ enjoyment of their vehicle from in ‘country club’ atmosphere.
Bicester Heritage hosts its own open day Sunday Scramble events, which bring together classic car enthusiasts and their vehicles, giving the opportunity to visit the specialists and see their workshops in action. The largest Sunday Scramble of 2015 comprised of some 3000 people and 2000 classic cars, which has led to over 25,000 people crossing the threshold in the last year.
Dan Geoghegan, Bicester Heritage Managing Director said: “When we took on the challenge of bringing the RAF site at Bicester back to life, we knew it was a huge undertaking. There is no denying that it has required extraordinary commitment, but the team have delivered wonderful achievements to get us to where we are today.
We are not taking our foot off the accelerator, though, and phase four of our plan will see the reactivation of the handful of remaining buildings on the technical site within the next 12 months.”
Their work is by no means finished; the reactivation of the Technical Site is just the start, with many exciting plans ready to slot in to gear as Bicester Heritage’s journey of constructive conservation and development continues.